Hundreds of Deaths in Brazil, a Product of Negligence

Since the beginning of the year, at least 550 people in Brazil have died and thousands more have lost their homes, due to this year’s floods, which have been disastrous as usual, but certainly not surprising.  What is surprising is the government’s inability to prepare for a recurring problem all too familiar to local inhabitants. Of course, global warming and climate change are a big component of this tragedy, but the incompetence of local authorities is outrageous.

Floods devastate Brazil's SouthEast http://fotografia.folha.uol.com.br/galerias/1880-chuva-no-rio-de-janeiro#foto-36030 folha.com

Every single year, during summer time, Brazil suffers from flooding, which is inherent to the tropical weather of the country.  Similarly, every single year, authorities recite the same words and promises of aid to calm the desperate needs of locals.  They claim that the disaster is caused as  “… consequence of the huge amount of rain”.

Well, if authorities are aware of the consequences of the rain season, why don’t they take necessary steps to minimize the flooding consequences during the dry season? Why can’t they relocate families living in risky areas and slums?  Why can’t they build the necessary dams and water channels?

Perhaps it has to do with the fact that the vast majority of the victims of these floods are, in all truthfulness, marginalized and treated as second-class citizens. Not only do they live in precarious conditions, but they have no other recourse but to live without access to basic human rights, including housing, cleaning water and sewer. How many wealthy and influential people are among the fatal victims of the floods? Probable none. If there were, I am certain that the negligence and inefficiency of the authorities would be much smaller over the years.

While a great number of Brazilian families are treated as second-class citizens and they are remembered only during election periods, the casualties that the floods bring year in and year out, will be only be a big number that will grow over the years. But behind the numbers, there are fatalities; there are people struggling to survive in an unfair society, where the wealthy have the best of the worlds and the marginalized community has to be carefully not to become one more statistic in the speech of yet another negligent public officer.

Southern Africa Year in Review 2009

Waiting in line to vote. Amnesty International.

Waiting in line to vote. ©Amnesty International

As 2009 winds down, here’s a wrap up of the year’s highlights from the southern Africa region. From elections, to assassinations, to elections, to awards ,to elections, to boycotts, to elections, to what was all in all a fairly smooth year compared to what might have been, here are a few notes about human rights conditions in the 12 countries we monitor for Amnesty International USA.

Angola
Angola was supposed to hold presidential elections this year but didn’t. Current (and for the last 30 years) president, dos Santos, said constitutional reform must come first and this will take another two years.  Constitutional reform=good. Using it as an excuse to delay democratic elections=bad.

Forced evictions continued in 2009 in Angola. Amnesty International continues to call for an end to illegal evictions and for just compensation for forcibly displaced persons in Angola.

On a positive note, Prisoner of Conscience Fernando Lelo was released this year. Lelo is a journalist imprisoned for criticizing above noted president. However, those who were tried and convicted with him remain incarcerated. Lelo directly credited Amnesty activists for their efforts on his behalf. Pat yourselves on the back for a job well done!

Botswana
Botswana held elections this year. Khama was elected to a new term, after finishing out the term of his predecessor. Major concerns in Botswana continue to be media restrictions, repression of labor unions, displacement of indigenous persons and high HIV infection rates. But Khama does his fair share of criticizing regional leaders and tweaking the nose of Zimbabwe’s President Mugabe. He mailed a congratulatory letter to the ladies of Women of Zimbabwe Arise following their win of the RFK Human Rights Award this year.

Guinea Bissau
SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

A Country That Will Drown If Sea Levels Rise

Maldives Underwater Cabinet Meeting

Maldives Underwater Cabinet Meeting, http://www.flickr.com/photos/350org/ / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The Copenhagen Climate Change conference opened this week with an urgent call to action on the rapidly warming temperatures and the associated human costs that come from it.  And, no country in the world will be more affected than the small nation of Maldives.  The country is a series of tiny atolls that rise no more than a few feet above sea level.  The fear is that as sea levels rise, the entire country of Maldives will simply be swamped and disappear.  All 309,000 residents of the country will have to move—everyone from the President to the poorest resident.  The newly elected President of the Maldives and his cabinet held a cabinet meeting underwater in full scuba gear to highlight their country’s fate.

The Divehi people of Maldives have lived for 3,000 years on these islands, but they are now being threatened with extinction.  The atoll of Maduvari, home to 2,000 people, is an example of this.  The atoll has noticeably shrunk and will have to be abandoned in 20 years.  Those residents will be resettled in other atolls in the Maldives.  But, what will happen when all of Maldives’ atolls are gone and where will they go?

The country is taking radical steps to deal with the onslaught caused by other country’s use of fossil fuels.  Maldives will be first country in the world to be entirely carbon neutral.  They are trying to use some of the dead coral reefs that surround the atolls to literally raise the height of some of the islands.  And, they are working to reclaim land similar to the way in which Holland has done.  But, these are short term solutions.  Long term, Maldives must convince countries much larger than them that it is imperative that action be taking to end the global rise in temperatures. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Mozambique Rocks the Vote

Mozambique goes to the polls tomorrow in its fourth general election since independence from Portugal in 1975. Parliamentary control and the Presidency are up for grabs. Election observors from the African Union, the Commonwealth and the Southern African Development Community have arrived to monitor the elections. Which is good, because so far things have been a bit bumpy.

President Armando Guebuza of the governing Frelimo party is being challenged by Afonso Dhlakama, leader of Renamo, and Daviz Simango, mayor of Beira city and founder of the Mozambican Democratic Movement. Seventeen parties and two coalitions are meanwhile in the running for seats in the Mozambican parliament and, for the first time, provincial assemblies.

So far, there have been several incidents of violence between supporters of Frelimo and Renamo, resulting in harm to persons and property. Several people have been hospitalized or forced to seek medical attention while offices have been vandalized and property stolen. Violence is often a serious issue in Mozambique; Amnesty International has documented many incidents of extra-judicial killings by the police with few prosecutions of the perpetrators and no justice for the victims or their families.

Mozambique has recently been praised by the International Monetary Fund for its economic policies and last month President Guebuza chaired the World Climate Conference, taking a strong stand on the need for new environmental policies to address climate change. Emerging in 1992 from a devastating civil war, Mozambique is now poised to take strong strides in the region and become a leader on climate change, tourism and economic development (despite the nation’s current continuing desperate poverty). Let’s hope a free and fair election unmarred by further violence or human rights violations speeds Mozambique further along this path.