Aerial view of Brazil's Atibainha river dam in December 2014. It is part of Sao Paulo's system of dams, which supplies about half the water to the metropolitan region of 20 million people and is now at historic lows. Photo: Miguel Schincariol / AFP / Getty Images

By Lourdes Garcia-Navarro
10 February 2015

(NPR) – Last Sunday, hundreds of Paulistanos, as the residents of São Paulo are known, dressed up and danced on the streets at one of the dozens of block parties that happen in advance of the annual celebration known as Carnival.

Except this year – among the pirates and Viking bumblebees — some costumes had a more serious, if still not entirely sober, theme.

Antonio Passareli was dressed as a water fountain — with the spigot placed strategically on his waist. But it's no laughing matter, he said.

"We have to make some noise about water," Passareli said, adding he was desperately worried about the city's current water shortage.

And he's not alone.

Southern coastal Brazil is suffering its worst drought in 80 years. South America's biggest city – home to more than 20 million people – may soon be under severe rationing.

Water restrictions are pretty arbitrary at the moment, but the state government is considering emergency rationing in the coming weeks: The most draconian plan could see residents without any water for five days a week.

"São Paulo was known as the drizzle city, lots of drizzle. Not anymore," says Augusto Jose Pereira Filho, a professor of atmospheric science at Sao Paulo University. "Now it's kind of a desert."

The reason for the drought is complicated: a mix of climate change, Amazonian deforestation, water mismanagement and Pereira's theory that the massive expansion of cities like São Paulo with very little green spaces left has created a kind of heat island which sucks up moisture. That, Pereira says, actually diverts water from the surrounding countryside where the reservoirs are. He says he fears a future where there will be riots over water.

"That scenario is really scary," he says. "Water is very important; it's a fundamental resource for us."

The Cantaeira reservoir system provides half São Paulo's drinking water. It's now down to only 6 percent of capacity. [more]

A Historic Drought Grips Brazil's Economic Capital

14 February 2015 (Al Jazeera) – Brazilians are hoarding water in their apartments, collecting rain water and taking other emergency measures to prepare for forced rationing that appears likely because of a drought.

In São Paulo, the country's largest city with a metropolitan area of 20 million people, the main reservoir is at just six percent of capacity with the peak of the rainy season now past.

Other cities in Brazil's heavily populated southeast, such as Rio de Janeiro, face less dire shortages but could also see rationing.

Uncertainty over the drought and its consequences on jobs, public health and overall quality of life have further darkened Brazilians' mood at a time when the economy is struggling and President Dilma Rousseff's popularity is at an all-time low.

After January rains disappointed, and incentives to cut consumption fell short, São Paulo officials warned their next step could be to shut off customers' water supply for as many as five days a week - a measure that would likely last until the next rainy season starts in October, if not longer.

State officials say they have not yet decided whether or when to implement such rationing, in part because they are still hoping for heavy rains in February and March.

But many residents are not taking their chances and stores selling large water storage containers are struggling to keep up with demand.

Rosangele Olvieira, who manages a container store in São Paulo, said residents bought up her supply of water containers faster than she could replace them.

"We are having trouble finding the containers even at the factory. We went almost a month with customers looking for containers and we did not have anything for the customers," Olvieira said. [more]

Brazil drought prompts drastic measures to save water

Brazil reservoir levels for the years 2001, 2008, 2013, 2014, and January 2015. Graphic: Financial Times / ONS

By Joe Leahy
11 February 2015

São Paulo (Financial Times) – With Brazil’s economy in a slump, there are few companies in São Paulo that can boast they are doing a roaring trade.

But water tanker operator Gota de Cristal Água Potável, or Crystal Drop Drinking Water, cannot keep up with orders thanks to the worst drought on record to have hit South America’s largest metropolis.

“We are working nonstop,” said Gota de Cristal driver Emerson Prado, whose water truck is supplying a laundry near Vila Sônia in São Paulo’s west.

“The way things are going, the water will run out altogether,” said the driver, who says the company draws its water from its own wells.

Mr Prado’s apocalyptic prognosis is not far-fetched. With a population of more than 20m people in the greater metropolitan region, parts of São Paulo — Brazil’s economic powerhouse — are running out of water.

São Paulo’s troubles are part of a wider drought afflicting the country’s south and central states that is drying up hydropower dams. In a country that depends on hydropower for about 70 per cent of its electricity, this is threatening to create an even bigger problem for Brazil’s economy — energy rationing. […]

He said that although São Paulo’s population growth had slowed, the rise of a new middle class meant that water consumption was still increasing.

To meet this demand, the city was importing water through subterranean tunnels from regions ever farther away. But while finding new sources was important, the city was missing opportunities to recycle existing water supplies. São Paulo treated only 30 per cent of its sewage, turning its rivers into open sewers that in turn limited the water available to regions downstream.

“This pollution stretches a distance of about 100 kilometres,” said Prof Mierzwa. [more]

São Paulo drought raises fears of Brazil energy crisis



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