In Northeastern Brazil, Drought Runs The Economy Dry

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 â€" 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 â€" 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.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

Art installation "Greetings From Giza" by French artist and photographer JR faces the pyramids of Giza in Egypt

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 你好*

Welcome to Tuesday, where violence erupts after Sudan's military coup, Australia finally gets onboard with climate change goals, and Harrison Ford stars in Raiders of the Lost Credit Card. From Bogota, we also see what the capture of drug kingpin Otoniel means for Colombia, a country long stained by cocaine trafficking.

[*Nĭhǎo - Mandarin Chinese]


Saving the planet is really a question of dopamine

The elite of the ecologically minded are set to descend on Glasgow next week for the Cop 26 conference on climate change. But beyond debating policy prescriptions, French daily Les Echos explores the role our own brains have on making the right choices for the planet:

Almost every week, a new scientific study alerts us to the degradation of the environment. And yet, we continue not to change anything fundamental in our systems of production and habits of consumption. Are we all suffering from blindness, or poisoned by denial?

In his popular books Le Bug humain (The Human Bug) and Où est le sens? (Where is the Sense?), Sébastien Bohler, a journalist in neuroscience and psychology, provides a much more rational explanation: The mechanism responsible for our propensity to destroy our natural environment is in fact a small, very deep and very primitive structure of our brain called the striatum.

This regulator of human motivation seems to have been programmed to favor behaviors that ensure the survival of the species.

Since the dawn of humanity, gathering information about our environment, feeding ourselves, ensuring the transmission of our genes through sexual intercourse and asserting our social status have all been rewarded with a shot of dopamine, the "pleasure hormone."

Nothing has changed since then; except that, in our society of excess, there is no limit to the satisfaction of these needs. This leads to the overconsumption of food and addictions to everything from sex to social media — which together account for much of the world's destructive agricultural and energy practices.

No matter how much we realize that this is leading to our downfall, we can't help but relapse because we are prisoners of the dopamine pump in the striatum, which cannot be switched off.

According to Bohler, the only way out is to encourage the emergence of new values of sobriety, altruism and slowness. If adopted, these more sustainable notions could be recognized by the striatum as new sources of dopamine reward. But there's the challenge of promoting inspiring stories that infuse them with value.

Take the photo-collage exhibition "J'agis ici... et je m'y colle" ("I'm taking action here... and I'm sticking to it"), a collection of life-size portraits of residents committed to the energy transition, displayed on the walls of the French coastal city of La Rochelle.

Backed by the French National Center for Street Arts, photographer Martin Charpentier may be employing artistic techniques, but he's also tinkering with neuroscience in the process.

Stefano Lupieri / Les Echos


• Sudan in chaos following military coup: After Sudan's military seized power from the transitional government, defiant anti-coup protesters have returned to the streets of the capital city Khartoum, for a second consecutive day. At least seven people have been killed and 140 injured. Coup leader General Al-Burhan has announced a state of emergency across the country, while the military cut off access to the internet and closed roads, bridges, and Khartoum's airport. Washington condemned the coup and suspended aid, and the U.N. Security Council was expected to discuss Sudan behind closed doors later today.

• Egypt lifts state of emergency in force since 2017: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, announced the end of a four-year-old state of emergency, undoing powers that had given the government sweeping authority to quash protests, make arrests, search people's homes without warrants, and control everyday life in the most populous Arab country.

• Platforms take down Bolsonaro video linking vaccine and AIDS: Facebook, Instagram and YouTube have removed an anti-vaccine video from their respective platforms posted by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Beyond blocking the video, in which Bolsonaro falsely linked the COVID-19 vaccine with developing AIDS, YouTube went further and suspended the far-right leader for a week.

• COVID update: The U.S. will launch a new travel system on November 8, imposing new vaccine requirements for most foreign national travellers and lifting severe travel restrictions over China, India and much of Europe. Meanwhile, authorities in northern China are reimposing lockdown, and other emergency measures as COVID-19 infections spread to 11 provinces.

• Australia pledges net zero emissions by 2050: As one of the world's largest emitters of greenhouse gases per capita and a major exporter of fossil fuels such as coal, Australia has finally committed to becoming carbon-neutral by 2050. This is a target already adopted by most nations heading to next week's COP26 international climate conference, but that Australia had so far refused to pledge.

• Japanese princess loses royal status over wedding: Japan's Princess Mako married her boyfriend Kei Komuro, giving up her royal status. Under Japanese law, female imperial family members lose their status upon marriage to a "commoner" although male members do not.

Raiders of the Lost Credit Card: A tourist returned the credit card of American actor Harrison Ford, who had lost it in Sicily while shooting scenes for the latest Indiana Jones movie.


"Out of control," titles German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, reporting on the release of a series of articles by a consortium of 17 U.S. news outlets, called the "Facebook Papers," that reinforce whistleblower Frances Haugen's claims that the social media giant is prioritizing profits over the well being of its users and society.


$1.01 trillion

After striking a deal to sell 100,000 electric vehicles to car rental firm Hertz, Elon Musk's Tesla has joined Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Google's Alphabet in the club of companies that have reached a $1 trillion valuation.


What the capture of a drug kingpin means for Colombia

While the capture of Otoniel, Colombia's most wanted drug trafficker, made global headlines, Bogotá daily El Espectador writes about the significance of the news for a country that has battled narcotrafficking for decades.

👮 The arrest of the Colombian mobster Dairo Antonio Úsuga David, a.k.a. "Otoniel," is a victory for Colombian intelligence, law-and-order forces and the broader fight against crime. Details of the eight-year-long pursuit of the head of the Gulf Clan, of the tireless and meticulous work, testify to the capabilities that the police and army have managed to develop in the fight against the narco-trafficking that has long been a stain on Colombia.

🇨🇴🇲🇽 Otoniel is responsible for a criminal organization with more than 3,800 members and influence on 12 departments and 128 districts in Colombia (though data from the Bogotá-based Peace and Reconciliation Foundation counts 211 districts). The Gulf Clan sends half the drugs going out of Colombia, and is the main exporter to Mexico. Its ties to the Mexican cartel chief Joaquín "el Chapo" Guzmán are well-documented — and Otoniel had aspired to fill the power vacuum left by Guzmán's capture.

⚖️ Some have observed that the ensuing power vacuum will engender more violence, which is true. But we are, in any case, far from eliminating drug trafficking in Colombia or cutting its tentacles across public life. That shows the limitations of the hard-line response to drugs, when we have seen it is not enough. Still, it is essential in any fight against crime for the state to show its operational capabilities. The message is clear: not even drug overlords are above the law in Colombia.

➡️


"I love Mako. I would like to spend my one life with the person I love."

— Kei Komuro said during a news conference after his wedding with Japan's Princess Mako, the niece of the current emperor and the sister of the likely future sovereign. The princess lost her royal status as a result of her marriage with Komuro, a "commoner."


An art installation "Greetings From Giza" by French artist and photographer JR faces the pyramids of Giza in Egypt, as part of the 2021 exhibition "'Forever Is Now," the first international art exhibition to take place there — Photo: Balkis Press/Abaca/ZUMA

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Send all commoner and royal well wishes to Mako and Kei — and let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world!

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!