By Caroline Stauffer, with additional reporting by Jeb Blount; Editing by Brian Winter and Vicki Allen
4 January 2013
SAO PAULO (Reuters) – Brazil's Northeast is suffering its worst drought in decades, threatening hydro-power supplies in an area prone to blackouts and potentially slowing economic growth in one of the country's emerging agricultural frontiers.
Lack of rain has hurt corn and cotton crops, left cattle and goats to starve to death in dry pastures and wiped some 30 percent off sugar cane production in the region responsible for 10 percent of Brazil's cane output.
Thousands of subsistence farmers have seen their livelihoods wither away in recent months as animal carcasses lie abandoned in some areas that have seen almost no rain in two years.
"We are experiencing the worst drought in 50 years, with consequences that could be compared to a violent earthquake," Eduardo Salles, agriculture secretary in the northeastern state of Bahia, said in an emailed statement.
Dams in the Northeast ended December at just 32 percent of capacity, according to the national electrical grid operator. That puts them below the 34 percent the operator, known as ONS, considers sufficient to guarantee electricity supplies.
As reservoir levels fell, state-controlled Petrobras imported nearly four times more liquefied natural gas (LNG) in the first nine months of 2012, a back-up for hydro-power generation that has hurt the firm's profits. […]
"The last comparable drought in the region was in the early 1980s … even if rains come in the next few days it's not going to make a difference for some areas," Celso Oliveira, a meteorologist with Sao Paulo-based Somar, told Reuters. [more]