Buckets, pots, jugs, cans, drums, and even kiddie pools have been pressed into use by residents of São Paulo in recent months to collect and store water. They are collecting the little water they can gather from rain, or when it comes through their taps, and for good reason. Never before has there been a drought like the one that is plaguing not only the state of São Paulo, but the entire southeast region of Brazil. More than half of Brazil’s population of approximately 203 million are concentrated here, in the richest region of the country, which is responsible for 55.2% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).
But during this long dry spell, the region is being compared to the Northeast, where drought is routine for the population. “We left there to come here thinking we were escaping the drought. Isn’t this supposed to be the “land of drizzle”? asks Beni dos Anjos, who left the desert sertão of Bahia years ago, only to find herself carrying water in a can on her head just as she did in Bahia. In the favela community where she lives along with her sisters, cousins, and nephews, who have also moved here, lack of water is routine. “We go two, three days without water,” she states.
The lack of water, however, is not a “privilege” limited to the less favored classes, although in their case it is more frequent. When a director of the São Paulo water supplier Sabesp announced that the population might face a rationing scheme of five days without water for every two days of water supply, the middle class rushed to supermarkets, desperate to buy mineral water to store at home. Previously only used for drinking, mineral water was stockpiled in advance of the potential unavailability of this precious substance.
In addition to trying to collect drinking water, people have introduced new habits into their daily lives. “I take shorter showers. Since I know how long a song lasts, I limit my shower to the length of a song”, says university student Pedro Lima. It is hard to find anyone who doesn’t collect the water that runs from the shower before they get in and begin bathing. In fact, before and during the shower. The initial water, which is clean, is reused to wash clothes or even to clean the bathroom. The dirty water full of soap, which is captured during the shower, is used to flush the toilet. Water drained from the washing machine is reused to wash the floor of the laundry room and the paved yard area.
These new habits have also reached commercial establishments. Some restaurants are saving water to clean the floors, and other such as the traditional and elegant La Casserrole, for example, already have plans B and C. According to owner Marie France Henry, a collection tank is being installed to store rainwater in the basement of the restaurant. If the taps run dry before this is completed, disposable plates, cutlery, and cups will be used. “We know that we will get rain for sure by the end of March or beginning of April, and this ensures that we will be “saving” the water we get from Sabesp for what is essential in our production process,” she told Diálogo Chino.
This same cooperative spirit of “helping” the government is shared by 60% of São Paulo residents, according to a survey conducted by Datafolha in early February. On the other hand, the approval rating for São Paulo Governor Geraldo Alckmin fell from 48% in October, when he was re-elected, to 38% in February. Until now, there has been one demonstration, with about 200 people protesting the lack of water. Some started a “rain dance,” typically performed by indigenous peoples, but the police put an end to this since it took place around a bonfire. Two people were arrested.