RIO DE JANEIRO — Protests are expected to continue after the fire early Monday that largely destroyed Brazil’s National Museum. The public’s anger at the blaze, which is estimated to have destroyed nearly all of the 20 million works and artifacts at the Rio de Janeiro museum, comes amid rising economic and political unrest as the country approaches presidential elections in October.

The citizens of Rio de Janeiro knew the museum was in bad shape, with paint peeling from the walls. But its vulnerability to fire is only now being exposed. The museum lacked a sprinkler system and nearby fire hydrants were empty, reported Folha de S. Paulo. Several Brazilian commentators have noted that cultural institutions have been routinely underfunded since the government began spending millions to build stadiums for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. In 2015, the Museum of the Portuguese Language in Sao Paulo was also destroyed by a fire.

Folha de S. Paulo's Sept. 4 front page

The National Museum was the repository for top indigenous artwork, as well as centuries of recorded history, which is now almost entirely lost, including Egyptian artifacts and one of the oldest human fossils found in South America.

National Geographic reported on the extensive loss for science, which included paleontologist laboratories and audio recordings of indigenous languages.

Extra's Sept. 3 front page

The fire has been a wakeup call for cultural institutions around the world. Museums are responding to the tragedy with their own review of how they are protecting their artistic and historical treasures. Brussels-based Le Soir, wrote about how Belgium museums are protecting their holdings. Patrick Semal, director of the Belgian Royal Institute of Natural Sciences, said prevention is the key. Yet, while there are fire alarms everywhere, automatic sprinklers are not recommended in a cultural institution: “The worst damage from a fire typically comes from water rather than fire,” Semal said.


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