By Carlos Meneses
Vargem, Brazil, Oct 1 (EFE).- The consequences of Brazil’s worst drought since 1930 are now being felt in different regions of the country, with reservoirs below minimum levels, power bills through the roof and some instances of water rationing.
Latin America’s largest economy and most populous country is now looking skyward in hopes that the rainy season that kicks off this month will alleviate the alarming situation in the country’s southeastern and west-central regions, home to half of the population.
Forecasts for the months ahead, however, are not promising, with rainfall amounts projected to be at best within the average range historically.
“With that there won’t be a recovery of reservoirs in the amount necessary,” Pedro Luiz Cortes, a professor at the University of Sao Paulo’s Institute of Energy and Environment, told Efe.
Reservoirs with hydroelectric production capacity in Brazil’s southeastern and west-central regions, where the country’s largest dams are located, are currently operating at just 17 percent capacity, according to the National Electric System Operator.
Capacity stood at 40 percent at this time last year and at 23.5 percent in 2001, when the country weathered various blackouts.
The impact can be clearly seen at the Jaguari dam, which is located in the municipality of Vargem and part of a vast hydroelectric system that supplies power to the Sao Paulo metropolitan area and its 20 million inhabitants.
That hydro plant is currently at 30 percent capacity, compared to 43 percent last year and 80 percent a decade ago. Some edges of the reservoir are now dry. Exposed earthen walls are a reminder of the abundance of water in past years, Efe observed.
Weed growth has spread and cattle even graze in some sections that were once underwater.
“The water reached more or less to where that vehicle is,” 57-year-old Jose de Rosa, who has fished in that reservoir for 25 years and has been witness to its shrinking supply, told Efe, pointing to a spot several meters (yards) above the current water level.
That region’s increasingly frequent droughts have been linked to climate change; reduced evaporation of moisture due to growing Amazon deforestation, a problem that has exploded since President Jair Bolsonaro took office in 2019; and the impact of oceanic and atmospheric phenomena like La Niña.
The situation facing the Sao Paulo metro area is worse now than prior to the severe 2014-2017 drought, according to Cortes, who said there is now 20 percent less water stored in reservoirs and weather forecasts are equally unfavorable,
In the interior of the southeastern state of Sao Paulo, at least 16 cities faced some type of water rationing in September, up from six the month before. Many of those urban areas get their water from the Parana River basin, which also is suffering an unprecedented crisis.
And the impact of the drought also is affecting people’s pocketbooks.
To encourage households to reduce their consumption of electricity, around 60 percent of which comes from hydroelectric plants, Brazil’s government announced a new “water scarcity” rate that amounts to a 14.2-reais ($2.60) surcharge on every 100 kilowatt-hours consumed.
That price hike is the latest in a series of ever-increasing electricity surcharges and reflects record generation of thermoelectric power, which is more expensive and polluting.
Those rising prices, meanwhile, are occurring in a context of economic weakness, with the annual inflation rate having shot up to double digits in September and unemployment now at an extremely high 14 percent.
Bolsonaro’s administration has ruled out the possibility of electricity rationing, although the president has urged Brazilians to avoid elevator use, take cold showers (many homes have electric showers) and turn off lights when not in use. EFE