When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

The reservoir in Brazil's Poço Fundo has almost dried up.
The reservoir in Brazil's Poço Fundo has almost dried up.
André Filipe and Fernando Canzian

CARUARU — For months now, water taps in some of northeastern Brazil's cities have been running dry. Not during certain hours of the day. Or certain days of the week. But all the time. Morning and night. Day after day, with the exception of just two days per month.

And it's not just residents being squeezed by the severe water shortage. Because the crisis is affecting a major industrial area, a whole textile network that feeds the biggest production and outlet center in Latin America could disappear.

Two cities in the Caruaru region, located in the center of the Pernambuco state, are vital for Brazil's north and northeastern textile industry: Santa Cruz do Capibaribe, where the Moda Center mall and its 15,000 points of sale can attract up to 100,000 people a day in June; and Toritama, the country's second leading source of jeans. For both these cities, the raw material they most depend on, water, is desperately lacking.

There are solutions to this shortage. But they're limited. In Riacho das Almas, a city surrounded by the countryside, wells up to 50 meters deep were dug to bring the salty groundwater to the surface. The water is then desalinated and distributed to the people via a system of tokens, which can be redeemed in what look like the old telephone booths Brazilians call "orelhão" (big ear). Each family can use two tokens per day, with each token worth 20 liters of water.

The city has 16 such stations across its rural area. Each of those cost 60,000 reais ($20,000), except for one which works solely on solar energy and cost nearly twice as much.

"It's a very restrictive situation," says Roberto Tavares, president of Compesa, a water distribution company owned by the Pernambuco state. "People in urban areas aren't used to this. When you come into a street and see people lining up with buckets, it's a difficult thing, both for the people on the receiving end and the ones who distribute," he says.

Running on empty

Rainfall in the Caruaru region has fallen short of normal levels for four years. With another El Niño planned for 2015, the drought is expected to continue in northeastern Brazil.

The lack of water comes on top of falling sales in the textile industry, which is crucial for the region. Some wholesalers have already been reporting revenue losses of 30% compared to last year, leading to job cuts and shop closures.

On the roads around the industrial hubs of Santa Cruz do Capibaribe (100,000 inhabitants) and Toritama (41,000), the hundreds of Toyota transporters carrying shoppers to the outlet centers have been replaced by water tank trucks, driving ever further to bring the vital fluid. The biggest water reservoirs of the region have mostly dried up, with the ones in Poço Fundo and Jucazinho operating with only 5% of their total capacity.

In some cases, the distance these trucks have to travel has forced prices up by as much as 60%. Transporting 11,000 liters of non-drinkable water can cost up to 160 reais ($50). And with the Poço Fundo reservoir almost entirely dry, those trucks represent a lifeline.

The situation is even more desperate in Toritama, a city that lives essentially off its jeans factories. In Mamute, the biggest laundry in the area, as many as 8 billion liters of water were used every month for jeans only — about 40 liters per pair. The company has had to cut its consumption in half and a great part of that water is recycled. It cut work shifts by two thirds and reduced its workforce, with more layoffs expected in the near future.

"We had a water crisis. Now we have an economic crisis on top of that," says Edilson Tavares, the owner of Mamute.

On the same street, a company called Rone Jeans faces the same ordeal. "We're seriously considering laying people off now," says José Ronaldo Silva, who owns the company and currently employs 75 people. "Even without water and reduced production, our stocks are jam-packed with clothes that quickly go out of fashion."

In Santa Cruz do Capibaribe, home to Moda Center and its 120,000 square meters of clothing shops, people talk of "collapsing" sales due to the state of the economy in general, but also because of the water deficit. Before the crisis the region was boasting Chinese-style growth numbers. Now it's following the rest of the country into recession. In the whole of Pernambuco state, 44 cities are in "water collapse" and another 26 in a "pre-collapse" situation.

Nivaldo dos Santos Costa, one of the shopkeepers at Moda Center, says that his sales and monthly turnover of about 8,000 reais ($2,500) have dropped by 50% since the end of last year. His neighbor Lucinete Sobral says that production costs, in the meantime, have increased due to soaring inflation, but that she wasn't able to raise their prices in compensation. Both voted for Dilma Rousseff in last year's presidential election, and both now regret that choice.

You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
  • $2.90/month or $19.90/year. No hidden charges. Cancel anytime.
Already a subscriber? Log in

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
Geopolitics

Women, Life, Freedom: Iranian Protesters Find Their Voice

In the aftermath of the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was arrested by the morality police mid-September for not wearing her hijab properly, many Iranians have taken the streets in nationwide protests. Independent Egyptian media Mada Masr spoke to one of the protesters.

Students of Amirkabir University in Tehran protest against the Islamic Republic in September 2022.

Lina Attalah

On September 16, protests erupted across Iran when 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died in custody after being arrested and beaten by morality police for her supposedly unsuitable attire. The protests, witnesses recount, have touched on all aspects of rights in Iran, civil, political, personal, social and economic.

Mada Masr spoke to a protester who was in the prime of her youth during the 2009 Green Movement protests. Speaking on condition of anonymity due to possible security retaliation, she walked us through what she has seen over the past week in the heart of Tehran, and how she sees the legacy of resistance street politics in Iran across history.

MADA MASR: Describe to us what you are seeing these days on the streets of Tehran.

ANONYMOUS PROTESTER: People like me, we are emotional because we remember 2009. The location of the protests is the same: Keshavarz Boulevard in the middle of Tehran. The last time Tehranis took to these streets was in 2009, one of the last protests of the Green Movement. Since then, the center of Tehran hasn’t seen any mass protests, and most of these streets have changed, with new urban planning meant to make them more controllable.

Remembering 2009 triggers many things, such as street strategies, tactics and the way we could find each other in the middle of the chaos. But this is us now, almost at the back. Up front, there are many younger people, especially girls. They are extremely brave, fearless and smart.

Keep reading...Show less

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
  • $2.90/month or $19.90/year. No hidden charges. Cancel anytime.
Already a subscriber? Log in
Writing contest - My pandemic story
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS

Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.

Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.

Watch VideoShow less
MOST READ