Encroaching Drought in Brazil and World’s Agricultural Regions*
The problem of a diminishing water supply is taking its toll on the residents of Brazil, pointing to the growing issue of a world that is running out of water and as a result, entering a global crisis which will likely have serious agricultural, social and economic consequences.
In Brazil, so severe are droughts (October rain showers in the Sao Paulo area were one-fifth the normal amount) that over the past six months, more than 10 million people in Sao Paulo have been told cut water use. In Itu, Sao Paulo, where rain and groundwater is relied upon more than rivers, a reservoir has fallen to a shocking 2% of capacity; its residents no longer see water coming from a tap. Violent protests from residents who want tap water restored are taking place and in other areas, so coveted is water that its a common sight for police escorts to accompany water trucks in an effort to stave off potentially armed men from hijacking them. In other instances, people are filling their small cars to the gills with water bottles while other individuals are paying exorbitant fees to obtain water from private water trucks.
The troublesome issue of less water, more politics
Lack of rainwater is not the only issue disrupting the water supply in Brazil; residents say that the government has failed to upgrade a faulty water distribution network, one that is losing 30% of its resources because of unfixed leaks. Even efforts for the production of more potable water and to implement improved environmental measures to protect the rivers that flow into area reservoirs have been met with resistance, mainly because of a government that didn’t want to risk losing votes during October elections. Despite the strains that the lack of water is having on the land and its people, the government there maintains that water conservation measures are working well enough.
But Tercio Ambrizzi, a professor at the University of Sao Paulo’s Department of Atmospheric Science who is also a key leader with Brazil’s climate change council, isn’t in agreement with the government’s less than tepid desire to get the issue back on track. A believer in investing in natural resources and turning to solar energy and wind farms, Ambrizzi says, ” . . . we have to manage our dams in a way that we can save some more water, and we have to change . . . our energy strategy in Brazil.” Sadly though, he says that “Unfortunately in Brazil, the politics comes first.”
Brazil is not alone with their water supply problems.
The “whole world” needs to be worried about droughts
California has been extremely hard hit. Since 2011, Californians of the San Joaquin and Sacramento river basins have lost four cubic miles of total water annually which translates to more water than all 38 million residents of the entire state use every year for domestic and municipal reasons. Diminishing groundwater has played a significant role in the matter there.
As a result, the state is suffering. The U.S. Drought Monitor estimates that about 82% of California is in the throes of extreme drought and very recently, the University of California at Davis released a study that predicts 2015 to be another dry year where the state will see approximately $1.5 billion in farm losses. Already, acreage to grow corn has fallen 34% from 2013, while it’s down 53 percent for wheat.
China has also been impacted by extreme droughts, namely in their northeastern Manchurian Plain. Once considered a hub of harvest activity, zero harvest has been reported. Part of the plain is experiencing the lowest rainfall since 1951, affecting drinking water and water used for irrigation. Australia is also affected, their Canning Basin negatively impacted. But like Brazil, politics can make necessary change difficult.
“Drought policy is very complex,” Australia’s drought policy expert and University of Canberra Professor Linda Botterill says.
“It’s complex because there is the welfare dimension as well as the farm business dimension, and getting the balance right between those two is particularly challenging.”
Clearly, the issue of fading water supplies is problematic around the globe, with food security hanging by a thread.
Perhaps Brazilian farmer Juliano Jose Polidor sums up the issue the best. “I think we are getting to the hour where it’s not just me who needs to be worried, but the whole world.”