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The drought strikes in a century to hit Brazil as it struggles to overcome Covid

The drought in nearly a century has left millions of Brazilians facing water scarcity and the risk of power outages, complicating the country’s efforts to recover from the devastating impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

The agricultural centers of St. Paul’s State and Mato Grosso do Sul have been hit hard, following the rainy season from November to March that produced the lowest level of precipitation in 20 years.

Water levels in the Cantareira reservoir system, which serves about 7.5 million people in the city of São Paulo, have dropped below one-tenth of its capacity this year. Brazil’s Minister of Mining and Energy has called the country’s worst drought in 91 years.

“Lately we have been without water every two days, but it was usually at night. But Thursday we didn’t have water all day, ”said Nilza Maria Silva Duarte from the eastern part of São Paulo’s working class.

José Francisco Goncalves, professor of ecology at the University of Brasilia, said the drought has had a devastating effect on the important agricultural industry, which accounts for about 30 percent of gross domestic product.

“The lack of water in rivers and reservoirs means that farmers will not be able to irrigate their lands, which will lead to a decline in agricultural production,” he said.

A worker stands by the dry banks of the Jacarei River © Jonne Roriz / Bloomberg

He predicted that the drought would “feed inflation and commodity prices on a global scale, and decrease Brazil’s GDP. It has direct repercussions. “

Jose Odilon, a farmer in Ribeirão Preto, a growing agricultural center in the interior of St. Paul’s State, said his sugar cane cultivation has been severely affected.

Its vast plantation is dotted with heavy agricultural equipment – largely automated – to strip the cane of its leaves, pick up the peduncle and then flash it to a fleet waiting for Mercedes trucks to transport it to local mills.

“We will suffer more because of the lack of moisture in the soil,” he explained. “That really hinders development.”

Odilon blamed an inversion of the La Nina meteorological model, which meant more rain falling on the Amazon basin and less in the south of the country.

Map showing extreme drought in southern Brazil

Marcelo Laterman, a climate activist from Greenpeace Brazil, said the drought was “directly connected” to deforestation in the Amazon, which last year rose to its highest level in more than a decade. The forest water recycling system plays a vital role in the distribution of rainfall throughout South America.

As hydroelectric power accounts for about 65 percent of Brazil’s electricity mix, the drought has also limited electricity production. This has forced them to switch to more expensive thermal energy, pushing electricity prices for businesses and consumers up to 40 percent higher this year, according to estimates.

“Our current model based on hydroelectric and thermal energy is not sustainable,” Laterman said. “The increase in droughts is putting pressure on the reservoirs of hydroelectric power plants and the response we have is the activation of thermoelectric power plants – which, in addition to being costly, increases greenhouse gas emissions and exacerbates the problem.”

The Brazilian government has warned of warnings of possible disruptions, fueling fears that energy use would be unreasonable. Local media reported that the government was preparing a reasoning decree to control the use of electricity in times of shortage. The minister of mines and energy said he was discussing energy rationing with “large consumers and industry for the times of greatest energy demand”.

Low water levels in the Jacarei River can be seen in the Jaguari Reservoir near Joanopolis, Sao Paulo state © Jonne Roriz / Bloomberg

Silva Duarte said: “Our electricity bill is definitely more expensive, and I don’t know how we will do it because our salary has not increased. They have said that prices will increase even more. Where will it stop?”

The drought comes when Brazil faces the economic and social effects of the pandemic. Nearly half a million Brazilians have died from it Covid-19, the second worst of all countries after the United States, and the death rate remains above 2,000 per day.

The spread of vaccines in the country has also been delayed and is only just beginning to recover. Just over a quarter of Brazil’s 212 million people have now received a first blow.

With consumer prices rising more than 8 percent from the year to May, inflation has combined with high levels of unemployment to hit the nation’s poorest citizens.

Less than half of Brazilians now have access to adequate food all the time, with 19 million people, or 9 percent of their inhabitants, facing hunger, according to a Brazilian Research Network on Sovereignty and Security. Food Safety and Nutrition.


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