Disaster Law and Emerging Issues in Brazil

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Brazil one the countries that have been worst hit by disasters in the recent years. Although the country does not have a long historical record of both natural and human-induced disasters, the happenings of the last five years have left the nation grappling against a new phenomenon of catastrophes in the form of floods, mudslides, fires, drought, and tornadoes (Farber, 2015). According to Gutierrez et al. (2014), these tragedies are mostly taking place in the North East and South East regions of Brazil. Gutierrez cites human activities and urbanization problems as the leading causes of the disasters.

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Reactionary responses to the disasters are one of the issues that cause inefficient emergency logistics movement, leading slow alleviation of the disasters aftermath. Gutierrez et al. (2014) find that there are inadequate government policies addressing the issue of disaster preparedness, shambolic urban settlements as well that of safeguarding the environment to prevent droughts. He notes that Brazil has the tendency to respond to water shortages during times of drought through emergency initiatives and water infrastructure projects. The challenge with such strategies is that livelihoods are destroyed, and the tragedies keep on recurring. Moreover, inadequate coordination between relief agencies leaves room for more damage when disasters occur. Notably, the government agencies and Samarco took long to warn the residents about the impending disaster in Bento Rodrigues in 2011, resulting in avoidable fatalities.

Enforcement of disaster mitigation laws and environment conservation practices continues to hamper the efforts of responding to issues of disasters in Brazil. Inadequate implementation of legislations and policies not only encourages dangerous human activities but also hampers the recovery efforts when disasters strike (Gutierrez, 2014).Reports of Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns(2016) show that the Samarco company did not install an audible alarm system that would have alerted residents in Bento Rodrigues against the legal safety requirements. Also, earlier reports suggested that there were design issues in the tailings dam systems, but no actions were taken to address the raised concerns (Saunders, Timson, Stevens, & Thomson, 2015).

Technological challenges inhibit the use of the latest scientific innovations to respond to disasters. Technological problems affect recovery efforts as well as hinder adequate forecasting in the case of floods and disasters. This happens when there is an inadequate movement of logistics and poor coordination of efforts between the private and public sectors that engage in relief distribution. Poor technologies also hinder the flow of information from the affected citizens to the relief agencies and personnel(Gutierrez et al., 2014).In spite of the use of satellite technology, weather forecasts have not been reassuring. Such inadequacies were witnessed when more than 450 people died after land floods and landslides hit towns of Teresopolis, Petropolis, and Novo Friburgo in 2011(Yapp, 2011).Such situations increase fatalities and are aggravated by the inadequate preventative measures.


Brazil could reduce fatalities through the use of ICT to coordinate the exchange of relief demand information. Gutierrez et al. (2014) argue that uninterrupted communication channels can enhance the flow of resources from authorities to emergency situations. Besides, use of enhanced seismic surveillance networks would improve forecasts that ensure early warnings are distributed to the possible of areas of disaster occurrences (OECD, 2013). OECD also cites the success of the use of mobile phones in sending messages during disaster emergencies in Australia. This technology can be exploited with the expansion of mobile phone technology. For instance, the technology would have saved lives in the Samarco disaster in Bento Rodrigues had the residents been warned as the dam burst lasted for hours before the mud started flowing down the villages.

The focus on preventative measures can be a remedy to the recurrent disasters. As mentioned earlier, some of the disasters are caused by human activities, and thus, can be avoided if such issues are addressed. Adoption and strict enforcement of anti-environmental degradation and climate change policies can minimize the harmful effects on the environment that induce disasters such as flood and mudslides. These efforts can be augmented through enhancing preparedness to tackle natural disasters as can be seen in the success achieved in Germany, Turkey, Finland and Australia (OECD, 2013).

Farber (2012) cites inadequate enforcement of the law as one of the primary reasons for huge fatalities in Brazilian disasters. The Samarco incident is an example of negligence and disregard of the laws regarding the enforcement of preventive measures in the management of disasters. Enforcement of the law would reduce destructive human activities on the environment as well as prevent disasters caused by the blatant negligence of safety laws in the country.


Farber, D. (2012). Disaster law and emerging issues in Brazil. University of California, Estados Unidos, 4(1), 2-15.

Gutierrez, A. P., et al. (2014). Drought preparedness in Brazil. Weather and Climate Extremes, 3, 95-106.

Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns. (2016). Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns | Representing Maryknoll Fathers & Brothers, Maryknoll Sisters, and Maryknoll Lay Missioners. Retrieved from http://maryknollogc.org

OECD. (2013). OECD.org - OECD. Retrieved from https://www.oecd.org

Saunders, A., Timson, L., Stevens, M., & Thomson, J. (2015). Samarco mine disaster: BHP refuses to admit knowledge of report of 'design faults'. The Sydney Morning Herald [Sydney].

Yapp, R. (2011, January 14). Brazil floods: worst ever natural disaster as death toll rises. The Telegraph [London].

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