The death toll from the heaviest rains in more than a decade in Brazil has risen to 119 people, the government said as it began to stockpile medical supplies in fear of epidemics.
Sixteen of Brazil’s 27 states have now been hit by floods which started in January, the National Integration Ministry said, adding that 180,000 people have had their homes destroyed or been forced to leave them.
The federal government, which has been criticized for leaving disaster relief to states and towns, is scrambling to resupply medicine stocks after distributing 30 tons of supplies to prevent dengue, leptospirosis, diarrhea and other diseases, the health ministry said.
“We are now making emergency purchases in case the rains go on,” Health Minister Humberto Costa told reporters at a briefing, adding that central and southern areas were expected to be hit by fresh storms soon.
Costa feared an outbreak of Leptospirosis, a disease spread by the urine of infected animals, which causes fevers and diarrhea, but rarely death. Some 30 cases have now been reported in the state of Espirito Santo.
“It’s worrying because any case of Leptospirosis is potentially very serious,” he said, adding that an outbreak would occur when people returned to homes and began sifting through the mud and water inside them.
Dengue, a mosquito-born disease, could proliferate as the insects multiply around towns which have seen reservoirs and rivers overflow and create huge lakes.
Brazil depends on summer rains to produce coffee, oranges and sugar. This year’s January rainfall has been eight times higher than normal in the nation’s normally parched northeast, the national meteorological institute said. Cold fronts swept into the nation in late December and have failed to move.
In central and northern states, soy fields have seen a drop in productivity due to flooding. Fruit production is down 10 percent in areas of the northeast, local growers said.