BRASILIA, Brazil — In Brazil’s northeast region, a severe drought has been plaguing the area for decades. Those who suffer are mostly poor farmers and ordinary citizens who find it difficult to secure reliable water resources for crops, livestock and their own consumption.
The Brazilian government has promised to address the issue, but promises have gone unfulfilled while citizens of Brazil’s northeast region continue to suffer. In 2006, a major irrigation project was promised to deliver water from the São Francisco River to the drought ridden region.
It was boasted to be 477 kilometers long, delivering much needed water to the region via a series of canals.
It is now 2014 and the major infrastructure project is nowhere near completion. The initial projections for the actual cost of the project has more than doubled to $3.4 billion. Many of the canals built years ago as the project started have fallen into disrepair and will need to be rebuilt prior to the completion of the project.
Shockingly, water irrigation projects connecting to the northeast region have been discussed for over a century. Economists claim relieving these drought-ridden areas is essential for the world’s seventh-largest economy to progress further into modernity.
Politics has also been a past factor with regards to getting the project started. In the 1990’s, many southern leaders proved reluctant to siphon off a small portion of their water to quench the northeast.
It is projected that only 1.4 percent of the São Francisco’s average water volume will be diverted to service the northeast.
The government says by 2015, water will be flowing to several of the affected areas; this is troubling news for citizens who are suffering through the worst drought in the past 50 years. One farmer must hike up to the local pond three times per week to retrieve water. If one traverses the farming landscape in the northeast, dead cattle becomes a common sight.
Another farmer has gone to extreme lengths to show his disapproval of the government’s job; he has placed the heads of dead cattle along his fence.
The drought is not only affecting the poor but is also straining electricity supply. Over 67 percent of Brazil’s power is generated by hydroelectricity which is now being strained by the drought. In recent years, the lack of hydro power has resulted in extreme power rationing in the northeast region. In addition, Brazilians as a whole have been forced to cut back on power usage. The government has asked Brazilians to cut back on power usage by one-fifth; those who refused had their power cut off.
In an attempt to ameliorate their power woes, Brazil has seen a shift to gas-fired thermal plants, but this has resulted in increased power costs. Compounding the cost issue is the fact that liquid natural gas (LNG) prices are substantially high.
Time will tell if the lack of movement on the country’s irrigation will have an effect on the political viability of Brazil’s current president.
– Zack Lindberg