Brazil: Flooding and drought causing losses
By Cristine Pires, Marcos Giesteira and Ricardo Corrêa—17/01/2011
PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil – As Southeastern Brazil suffers from disastrous flooding, it’s the lack of rain that’s causing damage throughout the south.
Since August of last year, precipitation levels have remained below the lowest historical averages documented in the past 40 years.
The soil is cracked.
Emaciated cattle walk the countryside with nothing to eat, since grass is sparse.
Some animals die of starvation.
The artesian wells that once supplied residences are now dry. Water comes only when water trucks make their rounds, attempting to bring relief.
Scenes such as these, once restricted to Brazil’s rugged northeast, are now a routine part of life in Rio Grande do Sul, which has suffered severe drought for years.
But this summer the drought, which has been attributed to the meteorological phenomenon La Niña, has been stronger than ever. The cooling of the Pacific Ocean significantly has reduced the amount of rain in southern Brazil during the summer months of December to March.
The Campanha Region is the hardest hit, with damages already totaling R$140 million (US$87 million).
Eight municipalities have declared a state of emergency: Candiota, Herval, Pedras Altas, Hulha Negra, Santana do Livramento, Pedro Osório, Lavras do Sul and Cerrito. Others – Bagé, Piratini, Pinheiro Machado and Aceguá – are awaiting approval from civil defense authorities to do so.
In Candiota, one of the cities hardest hit by the lack of water, 600 families living in rural areas depend directly on the supply from two water trucks working nonstop to keep up with demand.
Dairy farming – the city’s economic backbone – has been particularly affected because the priority has been providing water for residents, not cattle.
“We are stepping up distribution because the water is running dry in the wells,” says Candiota Mayor Luiz Carlos Folador.
Some cattle farmers are taking their herds out of the city in search of areas that haven’t been devastated by the drought.
“This week we had a breeder take eight truckloads of cattle off to other cities in search of green pasture,” Folador says.
Prevention is key
The drought-afflicted municipalities are asking their state governments for comprehensive preventive policies so they won’t have to worry about the water supply again. They are also seeking funding for the construction of new dams and wells and for the renovation of existing ones.
They’re also asking for tanks to store rainwater.
Palliative measures, like distributing food and drinking water, already have been taken.
The Civil Defense of Rio Grande do Sul sent 300 care packages and 50 water filters to families in rural Candiota. More than seven tons of food were sent to Herval.
In coming days, more cities should receive aid, officials said.
In the city of Bagé, water is being rationed in 12-hour periods.
“It’s a critical situation,” says electricity supplier Carlos Eber Dias Pereira, 46. “We have families who stay up until dawn to take advantage of the 12 hours in which they have water and can shower, wash dishes and do all their household chores.”
Losses in the Campanha Region are estimated at more than 50% of the state’s corn, soybean and sorghum crops, according to the Association for Technical Assistance and Rural Extension Businesses of Rio Grande do Sul (Emater).
Pereira also has been following the agony of his relatives in rural areas.
“They’ve lost everything: their entire crop of corn, and everything else that has dried up,” he says. “Their cattle are dying. The situation is horrible.”