I am writing this listening to the rain lightly pattering the terracotta roof tiles, a most welcome sound here, though I appreciate that for many people in England it is a sound they would very happily be without for some months to come.
Whilst Southern England is under water, so too are areas in the North and South of Brazil, but in such a big country the weather often varies greatly from one part to another and other regions are suffering from incredibly high temperatures and lack of rain.
This January, Rio de Janeiro reached a record 40.6˚C (105.F) and in the same month Sao Paulo recorded night-time temperatures as high as 24.06˚C (75F). Rain has brought some relief and temperatures have fallen but insufficient rainfall over the last couple of years in the semi arid North East region of Brazil has led to the worst drought in 50 years.
The North East is the third largest region of Brazil and contains 9 states, Alagoas, Bahia, Ceará, Maranhão, Paraíba, Piauí, Pernambuco, Rio Grande do Norte and Sergipe. As of feb 2013, a state of emergency has been declared in 1,342 of the regions municipalities, (in Ceará where I live, it’s 99%), affecting over 10,500,000 people (1,995,939 in Ceará).
More than 1000 municipalities are receiving water by tanker but the increasing problem is, where to get that water from. High temperatures and unusually low humidity have added to the problem by accelerating the rate of evaporation, with the majority of main reservoirs now at less than 30% capacity and many small rivers and ponds completely dry. According to Funceme (the meteorology foundation, Ceará) rainfall is 50% below the average with a 40% chance of below average rainfall for March, April and May.
Thankfully for us being on the coast, we are cooled by constant sea breezes and have an underground water supply, so whilst the lagoons and rivers around us have dried up dramatically, we still have water. It is not unlimited of course, being as the underground aquifers are fed by rainwater and some people in the village have reported that their wells have dried up but the majority are still functioning.
I always wondered why Lagoa Poeira was so called (it means dust lagoon) as I have seen it flooding the road on many occasions but never remotely dusty, now it is living up to its name and is completely dry, something Neu says he only remembers happening once before.
Lagoa Salgado, normally huge and deep, is less than half it’s normal size with only the deepest areas containing water and that is tangled with a mass of algae and weed.
Lagoa jardim is also considerably smaller than usual, revealing the stumps of forest that once covered where the lagoon water normally now is.
Further inland the effects of the drought are far more obvious, it is predominantly agricultural / cattle country and the drought has been devastating. In Ceará alone it has brought about the deaths of 85,000 head of cattle, their carcasses littering the parched ground. Belonging mostly to poor, small-scale subsistence farmers for milk and cheese production, the cattle’s suffering and death are sorely felt and not only economically.
One farmer, Erivaldo Silvo Mota, told Jornal Hoje that “Without water or food things are bad, to the point that I feel like crying over the way things are”. His lead cow was so weak she could no longer stand and had to be hand fed. Another farmer reported that to avoid loosing all his cattle he had sold half his stock but he had only enough water for his remaining 7 cows to see them through the month.
Few farmers were able to plant their crops in 2013 and so further hardships will follow. In Ceará 85% of the bean crop was lost and 95% of corn. Jaguaribara had only 125mm rainfall, 25% of normal levels, the Prefeito, Edvaldo Almeida reported that only 20% of farmers had been able to plant anything and those that did, lost almost all. As if the situation wasn’t bad enough, many farmers are facing foreclosure by banks for unpaid debts they cannot possibly repay, protesting farmers in Campina Grande deposited a lorry load of cattle carcasses in front of the bank Nordeste to demonstrate the reality of their situation.
In 2013 federal and local government contracted nearly 7000 tankers to deliver water to 1,1061 municipalities in the region, at a cost of roughly R$ 550,000. The scheme is managed by the army who contract and regulate the tankers and they are relieving the situation but there have been numerous reports of intermittent or non-existent delivery with people often waiting over a month between deliveries of one barrel of water per family. The programme Fantastico reported, many of the tankers are unfit to be on the road, unfit to be carrying water and driven by drivers without the necessary licences, often with the full knowledge of those who should be protecting the public from such abuses. The water is often unfit for consumption, either because it was contaminated with bacteria (over 100 people died in Alagoas following an epidemic of diarrhea caused by contaminated water) or because the tankers had previously been used to transport gasoline.
As the owners of tankers can earn a good income from water delivery (paid by the government), a market has sprung up around the buying and selling of tankers, regardless of whether or not they are fit for purpose, they are remodelled and given a rudimentary cleaning (or not) before being put to use taking water to people in such a desperate situation that any water, regardless of condition, is better than none. According to a toxicologist it is impossible for a tank which has previously held gasoline, to be cleaned sufficiently for it to then be used for drinking water and could lead to serious and life threatening illness.
Reporters filmed numerous tankers filling up from dirty rivers and ponds, the water from which had often been declared unfit for human consumption, having tested positive for faeces and other contaminants, that water was then being delivered to families and, in at least one case, to the municipal’s schools.
The government says it is investing R$32 billion in works aimed at bringing more water to the North East (the redirection of the river São Francisco for example and the creation of barrages and reservoirs), is furthering the programme providing rainwater capture cisterns to individual farmers and households, emergency water supply (water brought in by tanker), emergency credit, debt relief and subsidised cattle feed etc. Unfortunately as numerous reports have shown and as many of those effected by the drought know to their cost, government money does not always go where it should and there are always individuals who get rich on other people’s suffering.
These two reports are in Portuguese only, even if you cannot understand the language, they are still worth a watch for the images alone.
The rain has been falling steadily all day and thunder rolls menacingly in the distance, hopefully the parched interior will receive the rain fall it so desperately needs. Living with too much rain is miserable and I feel desperately sorry for all those suffering from flooding where ever they may be, but without water there is no life.