Public service workers on the front line in assisting those affected by the rains in Brazil

More than 2 million people have been affected by the rains that have hit the state of Rio Grande do Sul in recent weeks. More than a hundred people have died and 618,000 have been left homeless. An extreme climatic phenomenon that shows that the climate emergency is already a reality. Public service workers are on the front line of this crisis.

In recent weeks, the largest state in the southern region of Brazil has experienced the biggest environmental desastre ever seen in the country. The capital, Porto Alegre, suffered the biggest flood in history. A tragedy foretold by science and ignored by governments.

Extreme weather events are increasingly common and local and national governments need to invest more and more in prevention and adaptation measures, in addition to adopting policies to preserve the environment and reduce CO2 emissions. The rains came and entire towns were flooded. 428 of the state's 497 municipalities are suffering the consequences of the storms. It's also a political crisis, as the state government has invested less than it should have in adaptation measures, promoted setbacks in environmental policies and the capital's entire flood prevention system has collapsed.

"Rio Grande do Sul is experiencing a great tragedy, something that was announced a long time ago but not prevented. At such times, it's the workers who suffer most, especially those in the health sector, because as well as losing their belongings and relatives, they have to be at work to attend to the injured and sick," said Milton Francisco Kempfer, from the Federation of Employees in Health Service Establishments in the State of Rio Grande do Sul - FEESSERS.

Firefighters, civil defence workers, water, energy, sewage, social assistance, health, civil and military police, federal highway police and the national guard are on the front line to assist the affected population, support the search for the missing and the evacuation of cities, rescue stranded residents and guarantee safety in shelters. Although the responsible private sector and civil society are mobilising in solidarity actions, the state and public service workers are primarily responsible for providing primary care to the affected population.

"It's important to emphasize that the public servants working on the front line were present and are still present. I'm talking about the traffic staff of the Federal Highway Police, the State Highway Police, the traffic signaling of the municipalities, who are standing firm there trying to rescue people and trying to guarantee access to difficult areas in order to help the homeless," said Silvana Teresa Piroli, from the Municipal Servants' Union of Caxias do Sul/RS - SINDISERV.

"We're talking about the public servants who work in water, in water and sewage treatment, in the few areas where we still have a public service that isn't privatized. We're talking about the workers from different sectors who are helping to get families out, assisting them when they arrive in a safe place, in the shelters, accompanying them, sorting through donations, sorting through people, to ensure that everyone has access to space at this time of crisis," Piroli recalled.

João Cayres, sub-secretary for Brazil at Public Services International (PSI), recalls that unfortunately, it is only in tragedies like this that the population really realizes the need for a well-cared-for public sector. "In Rio Grande do Sul, and especially Porto Alegre, governments with privatist discourses have failed to invest in the public sector, which could have greatly mitigated the impact of this tragedy," he said.

Only a strong state will be able to guarantee an effective response to protect life.

"In these moments of crisis, the need for an organized, strong state to deal with these difficulties becomes even more apparent, but the state is made up of public servants because quality public service is provided by public servants everywhere in this country. Because they have stability because they are there and know their communities because they know how to deal with the unforeseen and have been carrying out the tasks that need to be carried out at this time for many years," said Piroli.

It will also be up to public service workers and the state to rebuild the entire infrastructure of the towns. Bridges, roads, schools, houses - the challenges are immense and public investment will have to be guaranteed.