A puddle is all that is left in one of the reservoirs of the Cantareira System, which normally supplies nearly half of the São Paulo metropolitan region. Photo: Ninja / ContaDagua.org

By Mario Osava
10 March 2015

SÃO PAULO (IPS) – Six million people in Brazil’s biggest city, São Paulo, may at some point find themselves without water. The February rains did not ward off the risk and could even aggravate it by postponing rationing measures which hydrologists have been demanding for the last six months.

The threat is especially frightening for millions of people who have flocked here from Brazil’s poorest region, the semi-arid Northeast, many of whom fled the droughts that are so frequent there.

The Nordestinos did not imagine that they would face a scarcity of water in this land of abundance, where most of them have prospered. The most famous of them, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, became a trade union leader and eventually president of the country from 2003 to 2011.

“Our water tank holds 4,500 litres, which lasts us two days,” Luciano de Almeida, the owner of the restaurant Nación Nordestina, which serves 8,000 customers a month, told Tierramérica. “I’m looking for a place to put another tank so I’ll have 10,000 litres, negotiating with neighbours, since my roof might not support the weight.”

Many people in this city of 22 million people share his concern about storing more water, especially in the Zona Norte or northern zone of Greater São Paulo, which will be the first area affected by rationing if the state government decides to take measures aimed at guaranteeing water supplies year-round.

The Zona Norte is supplied by the Cantareira system of interconnecting reservoirs which, on the verge of collapse, is still providing water for six million people. It supplied nine million people up to mid-2014, when one-third of the demand was transferred to the other eight systems that provide water in the city. […]

The water crisis is the result of two years of drought in southeast Brazil. Exceptional rainfall would be needed in the rest of March in order to store up water for the six-month dry season. But because that is unlikely, experts in hydrology are calling for immediate rationing to avoid a total collapse.

Sabesp has imposed undeclared rationing by reducing the water pressure in the pipes, which leads to an interruption in supply in many areas during certain parts of the day. The company also fines those who increase consumption and offers discounts to those who reduce it.

But the Alliance for Water is calling for emergency measures such as public campaigns, transparent crisis management, and heavy fines against waste. It also proposes 10 medium-term actions, such as more participative management, reduction of water loss, reforestation of drainage basins, and improved sewage treatment.

In its attempt to avoid the political costs of rationing, the state government decided to use water from the Billings reservoir to meet demand. According to Rodrigues, this is “appalling” because that water is heavily polluted, with mercury, for example, which poses a serious health risk. [more]

Brazil – from the Droughts of the Northeast to São Paulo’s Thirst



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