Brazil’s president asked God to halt the devastating rains that have killed at least 116 people in a southern state and offered new plans on Monday to help tens of thousands of people rebuild ruined homes and businesses.
Continuing rains have hindered rescuers’ attempts to find bodies of more victims claimed by the mudslides and floods in Santa Catarina state while making it tough for survivors to return home, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said on his weekly radio show.
“We’re only asking God to stop the rains soon so that we can start to rebuild the state of Santa Catarina,” he said.
Thirty-one people are still missing, and some officials have estimated the death count could rise to as much as 150.
About 80,000 people were forced from their homes by storms that dumped more water on the region during the weekend of Nov. 22 to Nov. 23 than it normally gets in months. Another 8,000 people were displaced in neighboring Rio de Janeiro state.
Lula called for a study on the causes of the tragedy, saying that heavy rains alone should not have been able to cause such devastation.
Meanwhile, the country plans to boost spending and programs to significantly slow destruction of the Amazon rain forest by 2017, aiming to reduce global warming by slashing the amount of carbon dioxide emitted when trees are burned.
The plan would reduce deforestation to 5,000km² a year, an area the size of the US state of Delaware, Lula said on Monday — setting Brazil’s first ever concrete goal to slow rain forest destruction.
That represents a 59 percent decline over the 12,000km² of jungle that were destroyed between last August and July, the last yearly period for which data was available.
Environment Minister Carlos Minc said the plan would slow destruction by 72 percent when compared to the 19,000km² lost on average each year between 1996 and 2005.
The new proposal would boost federal patrols of forested areas, replant 5.5 million hectares of forest, and finance sustainable development projects to give locals alternative work in areas where illegal logging dominates the economy.
“We need to offer help them with one hand, but with the other we have to tell them there will be punishment if they don’t pay attention to environmental preservation,” Lula said, without describing those penalties.
He did not say how much the plan would cost.
Deforestation — both the burning and rotting of Amazon wood — releases an estimated 400 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year, making Brazil at least the sixth biggest emitter of the gas in the world.