Security, well-being and minimum state

Porto Alegre (RS)/ Photo: Rafa Neddermeyer/ Agência Brasil


The climate event that devastated Rio Grande do Sul exposed governments' lack of preparation to deal with this type of situation

In addition to flooding the state and bringing immense losses to the people of Rio Grande do Sul, the climate event that devastated Rio Grande do Sul exposed the governments' lack of preparation to deal with this type of situation. The lack of a Contingency Plan to act in widely known risk situations, with the definition of the responsibilities of each segment, made the governor and mayors take a succession of improvised decisions. It also highlighted how much the decrease in the operational capacity of the State and municipalities prevented faster and more effective actions from being carried out, bringing more insecurity to people and increasing their losses exponentially.

Living safely is one of everyone's main goals and this should be the main concern of governments. A safe life is one in which people can have a healthy diet; adequate and protected housing; employment and income to live with dignity; access to public transport, cleaning and health services. This would be possible, if it weren't for the immense inequalities that exist in society.

These elementary rights for building a fair society have been put aside in the public debate, which insists on hiding the social, economic and environmental dimensions of people's safety and well-being. One of the most effective ways to hide the scope of the issue is to reduce this debate to the work of the police and encourage gun ownership. It is clear that police forces are fundamental to any policy in this area and need to be qualified to carry out their functions, but it is also clear that this is insufficient to guarantee a safe society. Two examples show how certain actions are capable of exponentially increasing society's insecurity: Governor Eduardo Leite's initiative to change 480 items of the RS Environmental Code and the decision not to listen to the climate warnings he received; and the choice of the mayor of Porto Alegre, Sebastião Melo, not to carry out maintenance on the Flood Protection System in the city, a need he was aware of since his campaign in 2020.

Governor Eduardo Leite used as an argument for changes to the Environmental Code the need to equalize Gaucho laws with national legislation. An infamous argument, as the existence of a state Environmental Code only makes sense if it is more restrictive than national legislation and “equalizing” with national laws is nothing more than a deception. When confronted with the fact that he had received the forecast of an extreme weather event in advance, the same governor responded “you have these studies. They somehow warn, but the government also has other issues and agendas”, confessing that given the information, his choice was not to prioritize the safety of the people of Rio Grande do Sul.

Mayor Sebastião Melo followed this unseemly path. When he was running in the municipal elections (2020), he harshly criticized the then mayor Marchezan and produced a video aimed at the city's residents, “you who suffer a lot from flooding in Porto Alegre... the city hall lost R$80 million to renovate the houses pumps and install our own generators... when the rain comes, the power goes out and without having our own generator... the water is not pumped... and the citizen continues to suffer from flooding”. At the end of his blunt criticism, in which he demonstrates that he is very well informed about the consequences of the lack of maintenance of the Flood Protection System, Sebastião Melo makes an appeal to citizens “if the current mayor hasn’t changed your life for the better, change mayor”. The city changed mayor, but maintenance was not carried out. The aggravating factor is that there were intense rains in Sep/Oct 20023 and all the precariousness was exposed. Nature itself gave him the opportunity to remember his promises, but he also chose not to do so.

These two examples reveal how the election of rulers trained only to undo the operational capabilities of the State – at its different levels – and dismantle any type of regulation aimed at protecting society and the environment, brings immense harm to security and good. -being of everyone. The tragic lesson of the floods in RS is that the daily preaching of contempt for everything public and the prioritization of “other agendas” serves to hide the economic, social and environmental issues that produce inequalities and can, at once instead, take away all the assets accumulated by families over a lifetime.

Climate change is a reality and can no longer continue to be just speeches made to garner votes and requires commitments to well-being and security, which cannot be offered by a minimal state, even if armed to the teeth. We need policies and actions capable of mitigating these extreme events and protecting society, which cannot remain exposed to losing all of its assets, or its own life, because we have governments only concerned with “other agendas”. Let's remember Mayor Melo's advice.

*Gerson Almeida, sociologist, former councilor and former secretary of the environment of Porto Alegre, he was national secretary of social articulation in the Lula 2 government.

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