The Current

Sao Paulo’s extreme water shortage worrying for water rich Brazil

Eleven million people in Sao Paulo, Brazil are severely rationed, their massive main water reservoir has essentially been bled dry. How did the city with the world's richest water supply parch a population? We look at Brazil's water woes and a water warning for the rest of the world.
There's supposed to be water, water everywhere in Brazil but today there's hardly a drop to drink in the country's biggest city, Sao Paulo. And it looks like there's more than just a drought to blame. (REUTERS/Nacho Doce)

Brazil has been called the Saudi Arabia of water and with fully 12 per cent of the world's freshwater supplies, it might surprise you to hear that Brazil's largest city is starting to run dry. We're just now at the tail end of what's supposed to be the region's rainy season, but for this past month, many of the more than 11 million residents of Sao Paulo have been forced to severely ration what little water they get. Some go days without water. Others can access water but only at specific times.

Of course the lack of water is also making it very difficult for businesses to carry on as usual. 

There are a lot of worries. Wash but don't use too much, or else we will be fined. Buying plastic cups is an added cost. And we cannot pass these expenses to the clients price. Because of the lack of water, vegetables become more expensive, the cost has been raised 10%. If I'm fined, the increase is more than 40 to 50 per cent, so it's been very difficult.- Brazil restaurant owner, Maria Aparecida Cardoso (translation thanks to freelance journalist Paula Moura)

At Nusu, a restaurant serving Japanese and Brazilian food, the water runs out every day around noon or one o'clock, right when they need it the most.
And if they use too much water, they're fined. So like many other affected businesses in the area, they've had to rethink how to keep their businesses running and if it's worth staying open at all.

Rebeca Lerer is the Communications Coordinator for The Alliance for Water, an umbrella organization that includes a number of NGOsShe spoke with us from Sao Paulo, Brazil.

It is astonishing to think that a country such as Brazil, home to so much of the world's fresh water supplies, could be experiencing such a crisis. And that it's largest city could be so thirsty.

For more on what's behind this shortage, and what lessons it holds for the rest of the planet, we were joined by Maude Barlow. She is the National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians. She's served as Senior Advisor on Water to the UN General Assembly. And she's the author of "Blue Future, Protecting Water for People and the Planet Forever." Maude Barlow was in South Carolina. 

This segment was produced by The Current's Sonya Buyting.


♦ Brazil drought: water rationing alone won't save Sao Paulo - The Guardian

♦ São Paulo – anatomy of a failing megacity: residents struggle as water taps run dry - The Guardian