As Brazil's Largest City Struggles With Drought, Residents Are Leaving : Parallels In Sao Paulo, home to 20 million people, water shortages have become part of daily life. Some residents are leaving for lusher regions. Ecologists say Amazon deforestation may be affecting rainfall.
NPR logo

As Brazil's Largest City Struggles With Drought, Residents Are Leaving

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
As Brazil's Largest City Struggles With Drought, Residents Are Leaving

As Brazil's Largest City Struggles With Drought, Residents Are Leaving

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


There's a water crisis in Brazil. According to some analysts, Sao Paulo, the country's largest city, only has enough water to last about five months. NPR's South America correspondent, Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, and NPR producer Lauren Migaki have been reporting on deforestation in the rain forests of Brazil and the connection between the depleted forests in the Amazon and Brazil's drought. We begin with Lauren at what was once a popular weekend resort on the banks of Sao Paulo's largest reservoir.

LAUREN MIGAKI, BYLINE: It happened slowly at first. The reservoir's water level dropped, so the resort extended the boat launch ramp. Then they had to add another extension. Eventually, the water dropped so much the resort gave up, and business dried up too.

FRANCISCO CARLOS FONSECA: (Speaking Portuguese).

MIGAKI: Manager Francisco Carlos Fonseca looks out at the brown pit that used to be the reservoir.

FONSECA: (Through interpreter) For this coming weekend, there's not one reservation. This business was 98 percent dependent on the water. Now that the water's gone, the customers are gone as well.

MIGAKI: Walking around the resort, he says until a year ago, this place was a weekend getaway paradise packed with vacationers. Today, the resort's a ghost town. It's a symbol of the economic cost of the drought here.

FONSECA: (Through interpreter) There were four or five marinas here that have closed completely because there's no access to water.

MIGAKI: Fonseca says he's not sure what he'll do if the resort closes. When asked what could bring tourists back to this region, he has just one answer.

FONSECA: (Speaking Portuguese).

MIGAKI: "Rain," he says. This resort was a respite for those living in Sao Paulo. The megacity is a concrete jungle, as dense with high-rises as the Amazon is with trees. And the drought has forced severe water rationing here.

RENATA TRINDADE: (Speaking Portuguese).

MIGAKI: The dishes are piled high in the sink when I arrive at Renata Trindade's house in a poor neighborhood in the north part of the city.

TRINDADE: (Through interpreter) Usually, the water is on from 4 a.m. to 1 p.m. And afterwards, there's no water.

MIGAKI: Trindade lives in a one-bedroom apartment with her boyfriend and a lot of pets. Since she works during the day, she has to be creative about doing chores. She says she lets dishes and clothes pile up because they have to make sure they have water for other things, like bathing or flushing the toilet. For her and many other residents of this city, this is the new normal.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: I'm Lourdes Garcia-Navarro. That new normal of rationing and drought means that the people who can are moving to places with water, places like the city of Jundiai, which I went to visit.

This scene couldn't be more idyllic. The city of Jundiai's reservoir is right in front of me. And it's surrounded by thick forest. It is full to the brim, and they built a park on its edge. And there are families here playing in the afternoon sun. This is a city that is clearly thriving.

Jundiai is about two hours from the center of Sao Paulo. One real estate agent told me she's been getting up to 70 calls a day from Sao Paulo residents looking to relocate because of water shortages. A new report from NASA shows that the drought in much of southeast Brazil, also home to the region's breadbasket, is much worse than originally believed. Some recent studies suggest that the lack of rain on Brazil's coasts may be linked to deforestation in the Amazon.

ALEXANDRE UEZU: (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We met with Alexandre Uezu, an ecologist with the Ecological Research Institute in Sao Paulo. He says trees in the Amazon suck up water through their roots and produce huge flying rivers of water vapor that move around the continent and fall as rain.

UEZU: (Through interpreter) Were it not because of flying rivers and air flows, the whole area here would be desert. So we're dependent on the humidity that comes from the Amazon.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Except now, according to some estimates, as much as 40 percent of the rain forest is destroyed or degraded. And that may mean a profound, long-term shift in rainfall patterns here. So a good rainy season may not be enough to really stop Sao Paulo from drying up.

UEZU: (Through interpreter) Were it not because of the Amazon, we'd have bigger problems here.

CEASAR FARINHA FIGUEREDO: (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Ceasar Farinha Figueredo is what you'd call, I guess, a water refugee. He closed his restaurant in Sao Paulo and moved his family here to this Jundiai apartment complex. It's got a large pool, and it's full of frolicking sun-worshipers on the day we visit. I ask him if he thinks a lot more people will feel compelled to flee Brazil's economic hub. Those that can afford it will, he tells me. And then, he quips.

FIGUEREDO: (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I already left. The last one to go needs to turn off the lights. I'm Lourdes Garcia-Navarro.

MIGAKI: And I'm Lauren Migaki, NPR News.

Copyright © 2015 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.