If Brazil has nearly a fifth of the world’s water reserves, then why are water shortages so often in the news lately?
There are many answers to that question, ranging from the way in which water resources are geographically distributed and the degradation of the areas surrounding river basins to climate change and poor supply infrastructure.
The sectors that most contribute to the economy are also those most dependent on water. For example, 62% of Brazil’s energy is generated through hydropower plants. Water is also essential for agriculture, another important sector of the country’s economy. According to the National Water Agency (ANA), irrigation consumes 72% of Brazil’s water supply.
This dependency means that when there is a water shortage – as evidenced by the experience in San Paulo in 2014 and 2015 – the productivity of different economic sectors may be at risk.
These and other topics are examined in the new World Bank report, the Systematic Country Diagnostic, which discusses how natural resources can contribute to the country’s economic development.
"For a few months in Sao Paulo, it was not clear whether industries such as the aluminum industry, a large water consumer, could continue at the same level of production as before the crisis,” said Gregor Wolf, head of the World Bank’s Sustainable Development Program in Brazil.
The report reviews key aspects of Brazil’s water resource management and analyzes the main obstacles that must be overcome in order to establish a sustainable, comprehensive model.
Water, forests and cities
In light of the growing scientific evidence on deforestation, forest degradation and changes in rainfall patterns, the report warns that water crises such as the current one in Sao Paulo could become commonplace over the next four decades. These events could affect the water supply, agricultural production and energy generation, among other activities. The study also highlights the reduction in deforestation of the Amazon in recent years (by 82%) and regulations such as the Forestry Code, which were developed to help protect natural resources in rural areas. These are recent successes following decades of devastation. There is also a growing need for continual monitoring to ensure that those resources will not be lost.