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Água Até Aqui: Imagine Water Up to Here

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“Imagine water up to here,” says Raquel Castedo, reaching above her head, on tiptoe, to place a sign that says “High Water Mark” on the side of a Baltimore rowhouse. Castedo, a Brazilian-born Baltimorean designer and BmoreArt’s Creative Director, had to worry from afar as her home state of Rio Grande do Sul suffered from unprecedented floods this past May.

On May 2, Castedo got a call from her parents in her hometown of Porto Alegre, Brazil, a city of two million people flanking the Guaíba Lake. The heavy rains had started on April 27, and each day the flooding was getting exponentially worse. Her parents, in their late 70s, informed Castedo that they would need to leave their primary residence on May 6 and head northeast to stay in Capão da Canoa where the intensifying weather conditions were not as severe.

May was the month with the highest volume of rainfall in the history of Porto Alegre. The amount surpassed all historical records, with the capital of Rio Grande do Sul receiving 44% of the annual average rainfall in thirty days. The total rainfall was not only a record for the month of May but also made it the rainiest month since measurements began in the capital 124 years ago.

Castedo lived in Porto Alegre for thirty-five years before moving to Baltimore in 2018. As a child, she remembers seeing more rain during the cold months, especially in July (the seasons in the Southern Hemisphere are the opposite of those in the Northern Hemisphere), but in the last decade things changed drastically as floods started to occur more frequently in neighboring cities, the amount of rain unprecedented.

Água até Aqui @aguaateaqui (High Water Mark) is an initiative that aims to be a visual alert for the extreme consequences of the climate crisis currently in south Brazil but applicable everywhere. The campaign Água até Aqui was launched on social media by a group of communication professionals in Brazil two weeks after the floods began. Initially, signs were placed in São Paulo, and soon afterward, residents in other Brazilian cities, including Rio de Janeiro, Curitiba, and Brasília, joined in. As the water is now receding in Porto Alegre, many have continued to use these signs to remember the peak level of the floodwaters.

São Paulo, SP, Brazil. Initiative creators: Gab Gomes, Mariana Camardelli, Rodrigo V. Cunha, Daniel Pinheiro, Renato Amaral, Beto Bina. Sign design by Marcos Oliveira. Photo by Daniel Pinheiro.
São Paulo, SP, Brazil. Photo by Daniel Pinheiro.
Paulista Avenue, São Paulo, SP, Brazil. Photo by Daniel Pinheiro.
Museum of Art of São Paulo, São Paulo, SP, Brazil. Photo by Daniel Pinheiro.
Consolação metro station, São Paulo, SP, Brazil. Photo by Daniel Pinheiro.
Metropolitan Cathedral, Brasília, DF, Brazil. Photo by Adauto Menezes.
"The Candangos" by Bruno Giorgi at the Three Powers Plaza. Brasília, DF, Brazil. Photo by Adauto Menezes.
Leme Beach, Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil. Photo by Moara Maysonnave.
Oscar Niemeyer Museum, Curitiba, PR, Brazil. Photo by Natália Noronha Torato.
Curitiba, PR, Brazil. Photo by Natália Noronha Torato.
Curitiba, PR, Brazil. Photo by Natália Noronha Torato.
Curitiba, PR, Brazil. Photo by Natália Noronha Torato.
Mercado urban train station, Porto Alegre, RS, Brazil. Photo by Eco Pelo Clima.
Porto Alegre Public Market in downtown Porto Alegre, RS, Brazil. Photo by Eco Pelo Clima.
Capitólio Cinematheque, Porto Alegre, RS, Brazil. Photo by Nádia Alibio.
"Monument to the Azoreans" by Carlos Gustavo Tenius. Porto Alegre, RS, Brazil. Photo by Nádia Alibio.
Unless you experience it firsthand, the impact of the catastrophe in southern Brazil may seem abstract. When I saw this project, I was inspired to participate, to both learn and educate about the impact of climate change on communities near large bodies of water.
Raquel Castedo

Castedo says, “Unless you experience it firsthand, the impact of the catastrophe in southern Brazil may seem abstract. When I saw this project, I was inspired to participate, to both learn and educate about the impact of climate change on communities near large bodies of water.”

The extreme weather event in Rio Grande do Sul state resulted in severe flooding, impacting approximately two million people across 470 municipalities. The floods caused extensive damage, displacing over 600,000 people and leaving tons of household debris, appliances, and personal belongings turned into trash amidst the sludge mixed with sewage that inundated these areas. To mitigate the devastating impacts of future extreme climate events in the region, entire cities may need to consider relocation.

When the floods started, Castedo tried to keep up with the news in Brazil. “Most of my family and friends are where the floods happened. There was such a disconnect for me between where my heart and mind were and where my body was.”

During the first weeks, Castedo’ saw many close friends in Porto Alegre, who did not have to leave their homes, volunteering in some way: gathering donations, driving items to shelters, or rescuing people and animals in flooded areas using jet skis and boats. “Meanwhile, I saw life continuing normally in Baltimore, where I live,” Castedo says.

Yet Baltimore, with topographical similarities to Porto Alegre, is among the cities in the United States most socially vulnerable to climate change, alongside New Orleans, Miami, and New York. The Chesapeake Bay is rising, and many of Baltimore’s historic neighborhoods are susceptible to flooding. A report published last year by the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and the Maryland Commission on Climate Change issued a grave warning for the entire state regarding increasing water levels.

Castedo is now contemplating: what if it happens here? Or more realistically, when it happens here, will we be prepared?

If you can donate to those affected and displaced by the flooding in Rio Grande do Sul, please do so today. Countless families are starting over from scratch. 

Inner Harbor, Baltimore, MD, USA. Photo by Raquel Castedo.
Fells Point, Baltimore, MD, USA. Photo by Raquel Castedo.
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