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Age Of Water Scarcity Arrives In Brazil

Ecologists and planners have been warning that water may be the oil of the 21st century. With oil prices plunging, water is getting more dear in some places. Sao Paulo, Brazil's great megacity and economic heart, is already facing a dire shortage.
February 20, 2015, 10am PST | Josh Stephens | @jrstephens310
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Diego Torres Silvestre

Drought isn't the only thing that causes a water shortage. In Sao Paulo, a devastating combination of deforestation, pollution, political corruption, climate change, shoddy infrastructure, and epic rates of urban growth—not to mention a drought—have the city on edge. The city's reservoirs are low, and the city's rivers are too polluted to drink from. City officials are considering rationing—possibly limiting water delivery to two days per week—and in some parts of the city of roughly 20 million, taps are already running dry. 

This in a country with one-eighth of the world's freshwater. 

"We’re witnessing an unprecedented water crisis in one of the world’s great industrial cities," said Marússia Whately, a water specialist at Instituto Socioambiental, a Brazilian environmental group. "Because of environmental degradation and political cowardice, millions of people in São Paulo are now wondering when the water will run out."

The water utility, Sabesp is building new reservoirs and has plans to draw from nearby rivers. It cannot build fast enough, though, to dampen the ire of many Paulistas. Meanwhile, a prominent Brazilian writer told the New York Times, "The majority doesn’t get indignant with anything,” he said, “as if we’re comfortably strolling toward our own demise."

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Published on Monday, February 16, 2015 in New York Times
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