The extreme rainfall and flooding that hit the southern Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul isolated and forced the evacuation of whole cities. Roads have been destroyed, bridges knocked out and the main airport, in the capital city of Porto Alegre, is indefinitely closed. More than 460 state municipalities, out of a total of 497, have been hit.

“The situation is catastrophic. When we arrived and travelled through the region by helicopter, we were able to view the towns from above and noticed that in some cases we couldn’t even see the roofs of houses,” says Rachel Soeiro, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) medical coordinator in Brazil, emphasizing the unprecedented flooding in Brazil.

The disaster has taken a massive human toll. According to provisional data, more than 150 people died and about 100 are still unaccounted for. Many people are without water, electricity and basic services. More than two million people were impacted and over 600,000 have been displaced. Makeshift shelters are being improvised in many locations to receive people who don’t know when or if they will be able to return to their homes.

MSF support during the emergency

Our emergency teams are responding to the disaster in Rio Grande do Sul with activities mainly focused on the most vulnerable people.

“Assisting those who are most vulnerable is one of our main concerns in such situations,” says Dr Soeiro. “These people were already facing difficult situations before the flooding. But their needs have risen further and access to them has become more difficult,” she says.

We are supporting the local indigenous health authorities with the delivery of medical assistance, drug supplies, water and food to indigenous communities. We visited indigenous communities such as Guajayvi and Kurity, in the municipalities of Charqueadas and Canelas.

On one occasion, people were totally isolated by the rise of the waters and had been without help for more than 10 days.

We have also been working with the authorities to facilitate the delivery of water and food to isolated areas. As most roads are blocked, organising transport is very complex. Many places can only be reached by helicopter.

In the city of Canoas, in Porto Alegre’s metropolitan region, we are setting up two mobile clinics with teams of doctors, nurses, psychologists and health promoters who are going to start working in shelters in the following days.

Additionally, we are offering remote training on mental health first aid to professionals who are assisting flood victims. Mental health support will remain one of our focused emergency activities, together with medical consultations.

“We know from our experience that there is a huge need for mental health and psychosocial support in emergency settings and the demand comes both from people affected and medical professionals who are on the frontline,” says Alvaro Palha, MSF psychologist.

The situation in the region is still very volatile, with unstable weather that may cause additional flooding or delay the return of people to their homes. We are monitoring the situation and may adapt our response according to the most urgent needs.

MSF implemented a mental health project to support the victims of the socio-environmental disasters that affected Rio Grande do Sul last year. Between September and November 2023, MSF provided an emergency response to people affected by a cyclone and flooding in towns of the Taquari valley. Over three months, we provided training for local professionals, including psychologists, social workers and education professionals. We also donated hygiene kits and offered health promotion activities to people who had to move to shelters. The same region was unfortunately severely affected by the most recent disaster and has been recently visited by an MSF team.



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