Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Drought Conditions Hit Brazil - Water Emergency Alert Issued

WATER EMERGENCY ALERT is Issued as Brazil is Facing Drought

 Fabian Ommar

Earlier this month, the government issued a hydric emergency alert (AEH) for five of the twenty-seven federative units. It’s the first in over a century – more precisely, 111 years – which tells something about the seriousness of the situation. 

The AEH will last from June through September when the rain season supposedly begins. It doesn’t sound like a big deal for a tropical country the size of a country with traditionally voluminous hydric resources. 

However, the level of threat is now deemed “critical” by some agencies and institutes. Only a week ago, it was severe. Also, these states are some of the most industrialized in the country. A significant part of food production happens in these states. 

Brazil’s drought and its impacts have a few differences to the one going on in the U.S. right now. Although consequences could be related and even interconnect at some point in the near future.

Starting with energy: the Brazilian power matrix is over 60% based on hydro generation, as I mentioned in a previous article about shifts in the global energy model. In other words, two-thirds of our electricity is water-dependent (that is, rain). 

Empty reservoirs mean no electricity. An increase in thermal-generated power (i.e., coal, oil, gas) has entered the system to try and make up for the decline. Still, authorities and Grid administrators must feel the need to consider some form of rationing. 

As expected, they announced a rise in electricity prices. The drought will predictably cascade into production, transportation, and services, contributing to the (already) swelling inflation and most likely knocking the GDP down a few points.

Trying to forecast the climate is impossible, especially over such a long period. But as always, history comes to the rescue. Looking back helps put things in context and gives other perspectives on the present situation. I researched going back forty years in climate statistics to have an idea at least if the present drought is an anomaly or a trend. The outlook is not too encouraging for the regions currently under the AEH – or Brazil as a whole. 

In other words, it seems there’s been a decrease in overall rain volume since the turn of the century. Not only that: these four above-average years were some of the lowest in rain volume too. And it gets worse: the remaining 16 years were significantly dryer than those during the 1981-2000 period. The years 2001 and 2017were particularly dry, way below the average annual precipitation volume. 

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