Floods battering Brazil, Afghanistan are extreme events scientists not ready for

Deadly flooding shows developing countries not prepared to deal with extreme climate events, expert says

Historic flooding in southern Brazil may take a month to subside with more than half a million people out of their homes and warned not to return.

"I have never cried in my life," said Casiano Baldasso, gazing at his ravaged house, which was submerged in water up to the second storey.

"This time I cried. Your whole life is there, the 50 years I worked," he said, wearing gloves and knee-high rubber boots as he used a wheelbarrow to dig out the mud from the shell of his house.

In the state of Rio Grande do Sul, INMET, the national weather service, has reported that about 630 mm of rain has fallen so far this month. That's more than London's average annual rainfall. At least 149 people have died and over a hundred are still missing, according to state officials.

In Porto Alegre, the state capital, Lake Guaiba rose to record levels last week and flooded the city with a population of more than a million people. It's rising again this week.

Brazil flooding/Getty Images/Hugo Cordeiro/863195288-170667a

(Getty Images/Hugo Cordeiro/863195288-170667a)

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Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has promised nearly $1,000 to each family that has lost their homes.

Too much water is the reverse of last year's historic drought in the Amazon, but whether it's flooding or drought, scientists say extreme events are more frequent and battering many parts of the world.

Extremes becoming more frequent

"People on the streets here in Brazil, they've attributed this change to global climate change driven by the increase of fossil fuels," Paulo Artaxo told CBC.

A physics professor at the University of Sao Paulo, and a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Artaxo says the last IPCC report showed the southern tip of Brazil would see increasing precipitation and more extremes because of its position at the confluence of tropical and polar currents.

"That's exactly what is happening," he said.

Brazil flooding/Getty Images/Cesar Okada/172446033-170667a

(Getty Images/Cesar Okada/172446033-170667a)

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In this case, Artaxo says a lot of water vapour coming from Amazonas, a state in northern Brazil, coupled with a much warmer south Atlantic ocean, resulted in prolonged dumps of rain.

Brazil's flooding crisis shows "how unprepared developing countries are to deal with this kind of climate extremes on both sides," said Artaxo.

Deadly Afghan floods

May has been a particularly deadly month for villagers in at least three Afghan provinces.

Flash floods last week killed at least 315 people, with more than 1,600 injured, according to relief agencies and Taliban authorities.

In Baghlan province, torrents of muddy water and rocks tore into villages sweeping away everything in its path.

"I lost 13 members of my family, including women and children, as well as many livestock," said Muhammad Yahqoob, standing at the edge of multiple graves.

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Afghanistan flooding/Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty/Storyful

(Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty/Storyful)

The floods destroyed the valley, he says.

"We have no food, no drinking water, no shelter, no blankets, nothing at all."

In remote areas, the World Food Program (WFP) is trucking in food supplies as far as it can, then strapping supplies to donkeys and walking them in.

"They're grieving for their loved ones, they've lost their houses," said Timothy Anderson, WFP program director in Afghanistan.

"But what they're most concerned about is having lost their livelihoods, because they know that the future looks very, very bleak."

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'Many more will suffer'

Kabul has just gone through a drier than normal winter, and many have been predicting the continuation of a crippling three year drought, but Anderson says the spring has been wetter than predicted.

The WFP hopes to build more simple structures — metal cages filled with stones — to act as barriers along river banks and as a bulwark against rising waters.

Afghanistan flooding/Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty/Storyful

(Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty/Storyful)

But humanitarian aid, vastly challenged since the Taliban took control of the country, is being stretched across multiple crises in Afghanistan, which has barely recovered from devastating earthquakes last October that killed at least 1,600.

"The people living in the country do not have the resiliency to overcome these kind of crises," said Abdul Khaliq Sediqi, the communications director for the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Afghanistan.

The IRC is responding to drought, earthquakes, the forced return of millions of Afghans from neighbouring countries, and now severe flooding.

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"We can say that this is like a big alert, and the international community should consider this, and we should act as soon as possible," said Sediqi, because "many more will suffer."

The UN special rapporteur for human rights in Afghanistan, Richard Bennett, posted on X, formerly Twitter, that the flooding was "a stark reminder of Afghanistan's vulnerability to the climate crisis." He urged both immediate aid and long-term planning.

Afghanistan is one of the lowest emitters of greenhouse gas emissions mostly coming from transportation and agriculture, but it ranks in the top 10 countries that are most vulnerable to climate change.

"The worst part, it's not their fault, but they're facing it more and more, this climate induced crisis," said Srikanta Misra, country director with ActionAid Afghanistan.

He says there needs to be more emphasis on longer term support to make climate smart activities the priority and to "build capacity and preparation in communities facing the brunt of these kinds of crises."

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Thumbnail courtesy of Getty Images/Fernando Podolski/1878179074-170667a.

The story was originally written by Susan Ormiston and published for CBC News.