Quest for water damaging health and communities in Brazil

Life in Brazil

Joao Evangelista da Silva is a 19-year-old father-of-four living with his partner Luiza and extended family in a small rural community in the district of Patos, Brazil. In recent years he has found it increasingly difficult to obtain water and is concerned for the safety of his family and community.

Patos is in North-eastern Brazil. It is a region with nearly 50 million inhabitants that is extremely poor and is seriously affected by on-going droughts. Most of the region is located in the semi-arid ‘sertão’, an area that receives less than 800 millimeters of rainfall per year on average. In addition to low precipitation, rainfall variability in the region is among the highest in the world.

Joao explains howthe weather conditions in his area have become more severe. “The last four years have been getting hotter and now almost the whole day is hot, it only cools for one to two hours at midnight. It used to be cool for longer.”

He is not familiar with the term climate change, but paints a picture of the impact it is having on his life. He explains how long periods of drought are leading to water scarcity, leaving him and his family no choice but to risk their health by sharing a contaminated water pool near his home with their cows.

“The water pool is 1km away,” (about 10mins’ walk) he explains. “We are lucky as we live nearby, but when it dries up we have to walk 3km to another community. The cows urinate in the water and contaminate it, sometimes we get ill. We do not want to die.”

Due to water scarcity communities are facing food shortages and family breakdown, as people migrate from the drought-prone to urban areas in hope of better prospects. This negative cycle of drought and urban migration is impeding the development of communities like Joao’s all across North-eastern Brazil.

But the grass is not always greener on the other side. Ze’ de Antonia explains that it can be very difficult for rural migrants to settle in big cities. He migrated several times to escape the deteriorating conditions of his rural hometown Afogados da Ingazeira. He was shot at and attacked in Sao Paulo and his family eventually convinced him to stay at home.

Ze’ de Antonia received assistance from Tearfund partner Diaconia and with it has turned his home into an oasis. A micro-irrigation system has been installed to make the most of the family waterhole. This is being used to cultivate guava, mango, orange, and soursop trees, as well as seeds of green vegetables. Now the family not only supports itself, but provides water to two nearby schools.

Joao Evangelista da Silva and Ze’ de Antonia live two hours apart, they are both the human face of climate change. But where one has received assistance to adapt to increasing drought and water scarcity, the other has not. Unfortunately it is Joao’s ongoing experience of crippling water shortages that remain the norm in this region of Brazil.

Source: Tearfund

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