The worst drought to grip Săo Paulo, Brazil and neighboring states in 80 years is wreaking havoc on the local population. As of late October, key reservoirs hold less than two weeks’ worth of drinking water. Schools and health centers are closing early, dishes sit unwashed in sinks, and restaurants are steering customers away from restrooms. Significant crop production declines are of deep concern, and because 50 percent of Brazil’s electrical energy comes from hydropower, possible power cuts loom. The president of Brazil’s Water Regulatory Agency warned that if the drought continues, the state faces “a collapse like we’ve never seen before.”
Brazil has more freshwater than any country in the world – 12 percent of the entire planet’s total volume. So how is Săo Paulo—the richest, largest city in South America—running out of water? Three maps help tell the complicated story.
1) It’s a Distribution and Management Problem.
Brazil’s water resources and population are very unevenly distributed. The Amazon River basin contains roughly 50 percent of the country’s water, but only 4 percent of its population. About 80 percent of Brazilians are concentrated in megacities along the east coast, like Săo Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, which rely on their own local river basins. Many of these cities are water stressed, due to their rapid growth and development.
WRI’s Aqueduct project recently analyzed water stress in Brazilian cities with more than 1 million people. About 40 percent of the population in these largest cities faces medium to extremely high water stress. This means that, depending on the particular location, as much as 80 percent of the water naturally available to agricultural, domestic, and industrial users is withdrawn annually, leaving businesses, farms, and communities vulnerable to scarcity.
Based on this relationship of demand and supply in a typical year, Săo Paulo, in fact, faces low to medium water stress. But this is far from a typical year. On top of Săo Paulo’s epic drought right now, a series of interconnected water management failures across the metropolitan area have hindered its ability to adapt to those conditions, according to Brazilian researchers. Săo Paulo demonstrates how destabilizing a drought can be—even in less-stressed areas—without adequate management. Other more-stressed cities in the region could therefore be at even higher risk.
For the complete article, please see World Resources Institute.