São Paulo, home to around 20 million, is experiencing its lowest rainfall since 1930, and new water-saving measures have been introduced in an attempt to manage the escalating catastrophe.
If it doesn’t rain in Sao Paulo, Brazil in the next 45 days, the system that provides half the city’s drinking water will run dry.
Sao Paulo is South America’s largest city, and is currently experiencing its worst drought in 50 years. So far, the drought has hurt corn and cotton crops, driven up prices of sugar and orange juice, interrupted production of beer and paper, and left cattle and goats to starve.
But as the drought has dragged on, the executive secretary of non-profit water association Consorcio PCJ told Bloomberg News on Tuesday that Sao Paulo’s largest water system — the Cantareira — is currently at less than a quarter of capacity. Though the Cantareira is supposed to supply water to approximately 10 million people in Sao Paulo, which has a population of 20 million, its levels are the lowest its been in decades, according to a report in the Global Post.
If it doesn’t rain before late March, all of the system’s water will be dried up. But if it doesn’t rain before Feb. 15, Sao Paulo Governor Geraldo Alckmin said the city will have to begin rationing its supplies — something that hasn’t happened since 2003. January was the hottest month on record in the city, Reuters reported, and meteorologists expect little rain in the next week.
Services including schools and hospitals are having to adapt to the country’s newfound water struggles, with The Telegraph reporting that doctors have even been forced to cut short dialyses treatment for kidney patients.
The Cândido Fontoura children’s hospital has refuted claims that it went without water earlier this month, but biologist Analice Dora expressed fear: “Everyone is worried. Hospitals are the one place that can’t lack water.”
Though there has been a recent uptick in rainfall in the region, it hasn’t been enough to boost supply in a country nominally the most water-rich in the world.
Current reserves stand at just 10 per cent – known as the “dead volume” – and the government has warned that it could get worse in the coming months.
Professor Decio Semensatto from the Federal University of São Paulo has likened the current water situation to a “semi-desert”.
With the water crisis likely to last for years, Semensatto sees the testing of solutions as “training for the next few years, which will be worse”.
He holds water utility Sabesp responsible; it has known for years that drought-like conditions would soon arrive, but took few preventative steps.
The current crisis has reached a point that actual water rationing may be necessary, with state governor Geraldo Alckmin last month admitting it was already happening.
Brazil is not used to such scarcity, but São Paulo is fast getting used to way things have to be run; there are incentives to use less water, fines for those who use too much and the possible installation of more water-efficient taps.
Sabesp will see if such steps can make the difference before it decides whether to formally introduce wider water rationing – it refuses to rule it out.