Severe Bahia rainfall not enough to drag Bolsonaro away from the beach

With precarious land use and subpar sanitation a reality for large parts of Brazil, the country’s summer rainfall season rarely passes by without causing problems. But after a year as challenging as 2021, scenes of massive floods in the northeastern state of Bahia leaving entire cities underwater hit all Brazilians especially hard. Well, everyone except from President Jair Bolsonaro.

At the time of writing, rains have caused 26 deaths, 520 injuries, and left over 102,000 people displaced in 197 Bahia cities.

Overall, nearly 800,000 people were affected by the heavy rainfall caused by the La Niña weather phenomenon — which cools the Pacific Ocean — and the so-called South Atlantic Convergence Zone (SACZ), in which the hot and humid air from the Amazon clashes with the cold air from the ocean. 

All over Brazil, volunteers have teamed up to rescue isolated citizens — many of them who lost their homes and their belongings. On social media, fundraising campaigns were supported by celebrities and governments from other states sent teams to support Bahia’s rescue efforts. 

One notable absence, though, was Jair Bolsonaro. After briefly flying over part of the affected areas on December 11, Mr. Bolsonaro retreated to a summer vacation in the southern state of Santa Catarina, revelling in fishing trips, jet ski rides, and engaging with unmasked crowds. 

Only on December 31 did his government issue a provisional decree allocating BRL 700 million (USD 122 million) to provide food and aid for the affected population, after severe backlash for the president’s perceived lack of interest in the tragedy.

As if Mr. Bolsonaro’s decision to remain on holiday wasn’t disdainful enough, his administration also refused rescue assistance from Argentina, using logistics roadblocks as an excuse. For many, however, the reason for the snub is merely political: Argentina and the state of Bahia are both ruled by left-leaning governments.  

Climate website Climatempo warns that the SACZ will head south in January, putting states in the Center-West and Southeast at risk. So far, 11 states have already felt the effects of heavy rains, with floods impacting major cities such as São Paulo and Belo Horizonte. Let us hope that citizens’ political inclinations matter less than their lives when it comes to receiving aid, if needed — and that they remember the treatment they received in October’s elections.