The intense heat in Brazil’s ‘City of Hell’ brings attention to the country’s significant inequality.
Brazil has already had its eighth heatwave of the year, even though it’s still a month away from the start of summer in the southern hemisphere. The temperatures have reached dangerously high levels.
Inmet, the national weather institute, issued a red alert this week for several areas of the country due to temperatures remaining at least five degrees Celsius higher than usual for over five days. The alert warned of potential health hazards and even loss of life.
The perils were highlighted by the passing of a concert attendee at a Taylor Swift show on Friday evening in Rio de Janeiro. It was reported that thousands of other attendees had to receive treatment for dehydration.
Ana Clara Benevides Machado, 23 years old, suffered a collapse at Estádio Olímpico Nilton Santos stadium and passed away shortly after due to a reported cardiac arrest. This occurred in the midst of extreme heat conditions, with the temperature inside the venue well above the official 39.1C recorded outside.
The artist, along with supporters and government officials, expressed her surprise and sorrow over the passing. On social media, Swift shared that she was deeply saddened by the news and feeling overwhelmed with grief.
At the beginning of the show, it was reported that fans repeatedly called out for “water, water, water” towards the stage. This was allegedly due to them being denied entry into the stadium with their own supplies.
Flávio Dino, Brazil’s justice minister, announced on X that emergency regulations would be put in place mandating leisure establishments to provide access to water for fans. It was anticipated that other politicians in the area would also adopt similar measures.
After experiencing the hottest July, August, September, and October in Brazil’s history, the temperatures this week were predicted to “alter the course of climate history” in the country, according to the MetSul weather company. Experts believe that the extreme heat is partially due to a powerful El Niño event, which is becoming more probable with the ongoing climate crisis.
The Inmet thermometers recorded temperatures over 40C multiple times in the central-west and southeast regions, reaching a high of 43.3C in Corumbá on the Brazil-Bolivia border on Wednesday. São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro both broke their records for the year with temperatures of 37.7C and 42.6C, respectively. In Rio, known as “Hell de Janeiro” by residents, the heat index reached an astounding 59.7C on Saturday.
Office employees, commonly known as white-collar workers, who typically work remotely, returned to their climate-controlled workplaces to avoid the intense heat and expensive electricity costs. However, this was not a possibility for individuals such as Flávio Figueiredo, a moto-taxi driver in the favela.
The 42-year-old man, seeking refuge in the shade of a tree at the entrance of Parque Arará, a favela situated next to Avenida Brasil (one of Rio’s busiest and most polluted roads) and adjacent to an oil refinery, stated that the heat increases stress at work.
He mentioned that when you come to a stop on the tarmac, the temperature may feel like 40 or 50 degrees even if it’s only 30 degrees.
Like in other places, the stark disparities in wealth and social status in Brazil are magnified by severe weather occurrences.
According to climate policy specialist Marina Marçal, the true effects of a heatwave are not seen in the idyllic images of bustling beaches. Instead, the reality is reflected in overcrowded buses with faulty air conditioning, and public schools lacking proper cooling systems. This highlights the issue of climate injustice, which Marçal has been advising the Brazilian government on addressing through their climate and urban policies.
According to geographer Andrews Lucena, studying extreme urban heat at the Federal Rural University of Rio de Janeiro, impoverished areas such as favelas tend to be the most affected. These favelas are considered hotspots for heat due to their lack of quality construction materials, limited green spaces, and frequent presence of unfinished buildings, all contributing to a build-up of excessive heat.
Favela residents often rely on secret connections to the grid, and are at a higher risk for experiencing frequent power and water disruptions.
According to Luis Cassiano Silva, a resident of Arará, public authorities do not pay attention to us and there is no attempt to make things better. This is due to structural racism. Silva, who is Black like 56% of Brazilians and 67% of favela residents, made this statement.
The 54-year-old was always bothered by the intense heat of the favela, as he had previously lived in greener areas and tended to sweat excessively. In an effort to improve his living conditions, he collaborated with researchers from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro to develop a green roof for his house. This prototype was specifically designed to work on more unstable structures within the community.
The thriving rooftop garden effectively lowers the temperature of the terrace below. “It’s beautiful,” commented the environmental advocate, but then mentioned, “but in all seriousness, it’s extremely hot… and it’s only getting hotter.”
According to Inmet meteorologist Dayse Moraes, the heatwave was predicted to reach its highest point over the weekend. However, there is a possibility of an exceptionally hot summer to come.
Marileidi Francisco, a 42-year-old shopkeeper in Arará, expressed concern about how we will handle the increasing heat.
Silva attempted to recreate his cooling roof, but despite his Teto Verde Favela project being successful in adding greenery to the square where Figueiredo sought shelter from the sun, the concept of garden roofs has not gained popularity in Parque Arará. The area still remains a hot and chaotic mix of red and grey brick and corrugated iron.
According to Silva, residents in the area have two options for cooling off: taking an outdoor shower or grabbing a cold beer at the bar. As he wiped his sweaty forehead, nearby gang members found relief by setting up a makeshift pool on the street.