Friday, May 22, 2015

Sao Paulo's Drought

Last year's drought in Sao Paulo, Brazil, was the worst in some 80 years, leading to water shortages bad enough to cause rioting and unrest in some towns earlier this year. Apparently there was some limited respite with the annual rains in February, but it was not enough. Brazil is heading into the dry season with reservoir levels at only 30%.

The International Business Times reported earlier this month that " the city’s reservoirs are at just 27 percent capacity, down from 40 percent in May 2014. Other reservoirs that aren’t at dangerously low levels are too polluted for human use." The article went on to state:
Arguments have broken out among some water-strapped residents living in the city’s crowded apartment buildings in the midst of water rationing, Claire Rigby, a British journalist based in São Paulo, reported. Other city dwellers whose water was turned off for large chunks of the day took to the streets in February to protest the government turning off their taps.

Leaders met last week to discuss handling São Paulo’s worsening water crisis, with some raising concerns over a collapse in social order as residents become increasingly desperate. Officials pointed to the city of Itu, which broke out in intense protests and looting last year during the drought. “If a small city like Itu unleashed all of that in such a short time, imagine what could happen in a city like [São Paulo,]” Paulo Massato, engineer at São Paulo’s water facility, said during the conference, according to La Nueva Televisora del Sur.
Telesur similarly noted the potential of having to call in the military if the drought worsened:
The water crisis is the worst is the last 84 years, and the dry season has only just begun, with less water in the dams than in 2014, when restrictions on water began and the authorities began to realize the seriousness of the disaster. 
Last week, a conference between academics, military employees and local councils to discuss how to handle the coming five months in the case that reserves run out, and the city might go up to five days without water. Paulo Massato, engineer at the state water company, told the conference that water supplies could run out as early as July, if emergency works are not finished in time. 
Engineers are working to create infrastructure to connect various reservoirs, which, if completed, would mean that there would be enough water to last until October. 
On being asked what would happen in the worst case scenario, with no rain and incomplete works, Massato replied, “It would be terrible. No would be no food, no would be no electricity … It would be a scene from the end of the world. There a thousands of people, and it could cause social chaos. It would not only be a problem of water shortage, it would be much more than that.” 
Last year the smaller city of Itu suffered a similar drought, causing violent protests and looting. 
“If a small city like Itu unleashed all of that in such a short time, imagine what could happen in a city like (Sao Paulo),” said Massato.
As the Telesur article notes, another issue facing the region are electrical shortages as reservoirs feeding hydroelectric generators go dry. Approximately two-thirds of Brazil's electricity comes from hydropower. This May 19 Reuters article notes that Brazilian authorities are betting on more rain to save the situation, rather than cut back on power consumption. The article goes on to report:
Reservoirs in Brazil's southeast and central regions were at about 30 percent of their capacity at the end of April. With that level of water, the dams are expected to reach November - the start of the next rainy season - at 10 percent full, according to forecasts by Brazil's power grid operator, ONS.

That is the absolute minimum level required to operate power plants, Energy Minister Eduardo Braga told reporters in Brasilia in January.
Another impact of the drought, however, is an increase of dengue fever. What, with people storing water in all sorts of various containers, the mosquito population has exploded.

However, with it looking like a strong El Nino this year, it is possible that Brazil will see more rain.

Interesting times.

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