Drought Contingency Plans for Brazil?
Brazil is sometimes called the ‘Saudi Arabia of water’ because its tropical rainforests and water account for as much as 70 percent of the country’s power. Yet some parts of the country are now facing a water crisis. While it’s easy to blame the drought on the lack of rainfall in recent years, the water shortage is just as much a problem of poor policy as it is weather. Public policy failures in infrastructure have made a bad water situation worse. Ultimately, these failures could lead to more tough policy decisions, including the possibility of water rationing.
Southeastern Brazil faces its worst drought in more than 80 years, according to the Los Angeles Times. The 20 million people living in the city of São Paulo have only seen traces of rain in August, and São Paulo state officials are calling the water shortage “critical”. To resolve the problem, São Paulo state is now pursuing emergency construction projects that will likely cost tens of millions of dollars.
While the forces of nature causing the drought are beyond human control, policymakers do control water management policies. The São Paulo state audit office attributes the water shortage to a “lack of planning in state hydric resources,” the Times reports. The audit office is calling for the State of São Paulo to put contingency plans in place to address the water shortage. Such plans would allow officials to take legal action if necessary.
According to a 2014 study referenced in Fortune magazine, more than one third of the city of São Paulo’s water loss occurred between the treatment plant and the water tap. This fact suggests that fixing the faulty water infrastructure would greatly reduce water loss and significantly ease the effects of the drought.
In the past, public officials have had little incentive to pursue expensive water infrastructure projects. In fact, in July, São Paulo Governor Geraldo Alckmin described contingency plans as “useless paperwork” and a “waste of public money.” But the crisis continues. And so does the question: at what point will lawmakers (and those living in São Paulo) decide that enough is enough?