Hundreds of Brazilians took to the streets of the country's largest city, Sao Paulo, this weekend to protest the state and federal government's inaction in the face of ongoing water shortages and severe drought.
Spanish news agency EFE reported that somewhere between 400 and 1,500 protesters, organized by grassroots organizations, political parties and student groups, demonstrated on November 1st to demand that Sao Paulo Governor Geraldo Alckmin address the state's water crisis. They also called on the federal government to take action to deal with the drought affecting the southeast part of the country.
The protesters marched to the offices of state-owned water utility Sabesp, where some called for nationalizing the utility, EFE reported.
The demonstrations came just days after a group of local non-governmental organizations in Sao Paulo formed an “Alliance for Water” to address the state’s water crisis.
The alliance, drawing on solutions presented by experts from all 60 municipalities affected by the drought, came up with 196 short-term actions and 191 long-term actions they said could improve the current situation, including ensuring that the state’s reservoirs are no longer at critically low levels by April next year and fining consumers who use excessive amounts of water despite government warnings.
Many of Sao Paulo’s reservoirs are below 10 percent capacity, including those used to generate hydropower. This has led to concerns that power supplies will also be affected by the ongoing drought.
The Thomson Reuters Foundation reported that over 14 million people in the state have already been forced to ration water due to shortages, and the country's National Water Agency (ANA) has warned that these shortages will get worse if drought conditions persist.
Sabesp has warned that the state may soon run out of drinking water supply left.
Last month, Sao Paulo Governor Geraldo Alckmin asked the federal government for permission to carry out emergency pumping of water from the depleting Cantareira Reservoir, the main supply source for the city of Sao Paulo.
The usable volume of water in the Cantareira system was passed in May, and dead volumes are currently being used.
Alckmin, who was re-elected to office in October, has been criticized for failing to implement water rationing in Sao Paulo for reasons of political expediency. Brazil's Public Ministry had already urged the state to "immediately" start a rationing regime.
Meanwhile, a new study by Brazilian scientist Antonio Donato Nobre of the National Institute for Space Research (INPE), published last week (and available here in Portuguese), blamed the drought in Sao Paulo and surrounding areas on deforestation and degradation of the Amazon rainforest, and called for a "war effort" to reverse these processes.
The rainforest's "innate ability to transfer large volumes of water from the soil to the atmosphere through tree transpiration" is disrupted by deforestation and degradation, Nobre said.
To prevent this, he called for "the massive mobilization of people, resources and strategies" to reverse deforestation and degradation.
"In addition to maintaining Amazonian forest any cost we must confront the liability of accumulated deforestation and begin a comprehensive process of recovering what was destroyed," he said. "To address the seriousness of the situation, we need mobilization [like] with a war effort, but not directed to conflict. Only a minority of the society has been and still is directly involved in the destruction of forests. And that minority is pushing the nation toward climate abyss."