First there was drought. Then came the floods. The flight of thousands in Brazil's north-east?
First there was drought. Then came the floods. The flight of thousands in Brazil's north-east has in recent weeks, become even more desperate than it normally is. It is said to be one of the poorest parts of the inhabited world -- a place of hardship, of people struggling to live. Recently President Emilio Garrastazu Medici went there. He was visibly moved by what he saw. "Nothing in my lie has shocked me like this", he said. But there are also those for whom life is rich, full and plentiful. The city of Recife is where the contrast between have and have not is most apparent.
After his visit the President said: "There north-east finally has to change."
The drought earlier this year brought famine and starvation. Brazil's military government set a programme in motion to provide first food, then work for those towns and villages suffering most from the failure of crops.
But then, even before the relief programme could begin, it started to rain, While some areas were still held in the grip of drought others experienced the worst rainfalls for many years. Within hours rivers swelled and broke their banks, spilling swiftly into the surrounding countryside. Sixty-two people died, 30,000 abandoned their homes.
Then, when conditions were improving once more it rained again. This time 24 people died.
The problems of this stricken area are manifold. Underdevelopment is the main reason. Lack of work breeds poverty, and nature is cruel often preventing the most meagre staple crop from maturing.
The simple people of the north-east often survive by suing their primitive skills. Entire families make folklore products -- dolls, charms and traditional ware. Then they take the long track to market....
There are few roads. Overland communication is major problem -- one of the hardships silently borne by the long-suffering peasants. And, even when they reach the markets where the tourist and wealthy are likely to buy from them, they have to face the strong competition from well appointed "tourist shops".
Somehow they scrape together a bare living -- enough to provide them with the very basic essentials to support their lives. Huddled together in decaying wooden shacks or in primitive stone huts they eke out their existence. There is a re-building programme. Row of new, compact houses stand empty. There is little immediate hope that they can or will be occupied. Few can afford the rent.
No running water, wells contaminated by flood effluent, primitive sanitation, failing crops, lack of work, sickness, poverty. The people of north-east Brazil accept their way of life with resignation. Yet their future is one of promised improvement.
Already in operation is the first major step to improve their log -- a programme of road building; new highways which will open up their remote region to the outside world and, in turn, allow them to trade further afield, travel to where there is work.
The road building programme is also providing many of he men with work -- the chance to earn money. To the underprivileged of the north-east the roads represent highways to a future which, for the first time, holds the promise of a better life.