Dirty brown flood water covers a street up to street signs as three rescue workers - two standing chest-deep in the water and the third sitting in a small inflatable boat - navigate floodwaters in the historic city centre of Porto Alegre in the southern Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul.

Rescue workers navigate floodwaters in the historic city centre of Porto Alegre in the southern Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul. © UNHCR/Eduardo Aigner

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson William Spindler – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at today’s press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

GENEVA – UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is working with federal, state, and municipal authorities, and partner organizations in Brazil to mitigate the severe impact of the extreme weather events, including heavy rains, strong winds and cold, that have devastated areas of Brazil’s southern state of Rio Grande do Sul.

Massive floods, in particular, have killed at least 107 people and affected more than 1.7 million, according to official figures. Another 134 people are missing.

Those affected include some 41,000 refugees and others in need of international protection, including many Venezuelans and Haitians who live in the affected areas – some of which can only be reached by boat.

In coordination with local authorities, UNHCR is distributing relief items such as blankets and mattresses, and assessing the needs of the affected population. UNHCR is also providing technical support to facilitate communication with the impacted communities so that refugees and migrants have access in their own language to official information on protection recommendations and risks in the places where they live.

In the coming days UNHCR will be supporting the issuance of documentation, where it has been lost or damaged, to guarantee refugees and asylum-seekers continue to access social benefits and public services. The agency will also strengthen local teams of civil society partners to provide psychological support and respond to the most vulnerable cases, including among host communities.

Additional relief items, such as emergency shelters, kitchen sets, blankets, solar lamps and hygiene kits are being sent to Brazil from UNHCR regional stocks and from the agency’ stockpile in the north of Brazil.

According to government data, Rio Grande do Sul state hosts more than 21,000 Venezuelans who have been relocated from Roraima state on the country’s northern border with Venezuela since April 2018.

Extreme weather events in Brazil have been frequent and more devastating in recent years, including droughts in the Amazon region and severe rains in Bahia and Acre states, all of which UNHCR has responded to.

UNHCR estimates $3.21 million is needed to support the most urgent needs, including direct financial assistance to affected individuals and the provision of essential relief items. More than 85 per cent of Rio Grande do Sul’s territory has been hit by the flooding, with around 68,000 people forced to live in adapted shelters while more than 327,000 have left their houses.

Meteorologists are warning of further high-intensity rain and strong winds across the state until this weekend.

Severe climate events disproportionately affect refugees and other people requesting international protection. Funding available to address the impacts of climate change is not sufficient to address the needs of those forcibly displaced, nor the communities hosting them. Without help to prepare for, withstand and recover from climate-related shocks, they face an increased risk of further displacement.

In April 2024, UNHCR launched its first-ever Climate Resilience Fund to reinforce the need to build the resilience of refugees, displaced communities, and their hosts to the increasing intensity of climate-change-related extreme weather events.

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