Living with Water Crisis in Brazil

By Roselyn Byrd.

Since 2016, Brasilia, the capital of Brazil, has been experiencing the worst water crisis seen in the capital’s history. Fifteen of the regions located in the federal district, about 65% of the population, faces water rationing mandated by the government each week, potentially leaving them without water in their homes and offices for 24-36 hours.

In the beginning of January, the levels of the two main reservoirs (Descoberto and Santa Maria) that supply 80% of water to the 3 million residents dropped to crucial and historical lows,  Descoberto dropping to 20% filled and Santa Maria to 40%. The lack of water stems from the drought occurring in the midst of their rainy season, but also due to poor management in the supply of water, increased population, and the unsustainable water habits of residents, industry and agriculture production. Local professors from the University of Brasilia point out that water waste in Brasilia is one of the leading causes of the crisis and needs to be addressed before any hopes of ending. Inefficient water uses in agriculture, poultry farms, government agencies and resident’s habits (cleaning of sidewalks, filling up swimming pools, etc.) are all outlets where water usage has been reported as dangerously high. Residents who live in Lago Sul, a neighbourhood in Brasilia, on average use 700 litres of water a day, per person, when the average use of water per resident in Brazil is around 150 litres per day.

Before moving to Brazil, I heard, read and learned about droughts and water rationing, but I never understood the magnitude of it until I had to experience it first-hand. Each neighbourhood in Brasilia has specific days each week in where the water supply is cut off starting at 8:00 am and then returns the next day, usually around dusk (yes that includes everything from sink to toilet to shower water). Residents depend on what remains in their “caixa” or tank of water during the ration. A water tank (usually located above a home) is where water is filled before entering and distributed throughout the pipes of a home. During the two-day shortage, families resort to what is left in their water tank to get them through the rationing. If you live in a household of five, depending on the size of the tank, you could easily use all of that water in a few hours. I live alone, in a tiny studio, so my tank usually lasts me the entire two days, as I have become extremely conscious about taking quick showers, not washing my hair or clothes during the time period and cleaning dishes with as limited water as possible.

Water rationing in Brasilia is far from ending. The rainy season just ended and reservoirs are at an all-time low. As the dry season begins, residents fear that things can only get worse as they enter days without any hopes of even a drip of water. I have encountered residents who have adopted extreme measures at home when it comes to doing their part as citizens to improve the crisis and better the situation. However, they feel frustrated when they see their neighbours scrubbing down their sidewalks and driveways every two weeks. Rationing has made me question the false perspective that our society has that water is infinite. It also has me reflecting more and more about the uncertainties that nature brings, especially with the worsening of climate change. Without water, how could we live? Will clean water move from being a human right to something only the privilege can afford? However, I refuse to take a pessimistic forecast for the future: As we experience these obstacles and challenges with an increase in population and as the climate alters, the room for innovation, initiation, and progress cannot be overstated.

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