Instead of rain, São Paulo has cracked earth and chaos as a devastating drought is making enemies out of neighbors in Brazil’s largest city, the site of a historic water shortage the likes of which hasn’t been seen in decades. Many residents have gone to drastic measures to hoard the precious commodity in the face of tougher water use restrictions, pinched faucets and declining reservoirs. Local authorities fearing anarchy in the city of 11 million are considering bringing in the military to control what’s quickly spiraling into a war over resources.
São Paulo’s water crisis that began last year is the region’s worst drought in more than 80 years. Brazil is home to roughly 12 percent of the world’s fresh water, yet millions of residents in the country’s most populated metropolis have gone days on end without running water, according to the Guardian. The drought is the result of three consecutive years of record low rainfall, which the city relies on to replenish its depleted reservoirs.
Today, the city’s reservoirs are at just 27 percent capacity, down from 40 percent in May 2014. Other reservoirs that aren’t at dangerously low levels are too polluted for human use.
Arguments have broken out among some water-strapped residents living in the city’s crowded apartment buildings in the midst of water rationing, Claire Rigby, a British journalist based in São Paulo, reported. Other city dwellers whose water was turned off for large chunks of the day took to the streets in February to protest the government turning off their taps.
Leaders met last week to discuss handling São Paulo’s worsening water crisis, with some raising concerns over a collapse in social order as residents become increasingly desperate. Officials pointed to the city of Itu, which broke out in intense protests and looting last year during the drought. “If a small city like Itu unleashed all of that in such a short time, imagine what could happen in a city like [São Paulo,]” Paulo Massato, engineer at São Paulo’s water facility, said during the conference, according to La Nueva Televisora del Sur.
The government of São Paulo has taken steps to limit city residents’ access to water, but the efforts have done little to alleviate the crisis. Resource experts say the problem will likely have consequences for years to come.
“You have to think about the way of dealing with a crisis that has not just come in the short range, but has come to stay,” water expert Pedro Jacobi of the University of São Paulo told Circle of Blue. “You have to look at it as permanent."