Rain revives hopes of drought-stricken communities in Brazil
The sertão, a low-rainfall area across the Northeast region, springs
Published in 27/03/2015 - 18:02 By Edwirges Nogueira reports on the scene - Fortaleza, Ceará
"Dona Inácia crossed herself and kissed a Saint Joseph medal twice, then proceeded: 'Deign to hear our prayers, O most chaste spouse of the Virgin Mary, and obtain for us what we pray for. Amen.'
And as she emerged from the prayer chamber, her granddaughter Conceição asked her from a hammock in the sitting room while braiding herself:
—So does it gets to rain, Mother Nácia? This month is gone already... Not even with all your prayers...
Dona Inácia looked up to the ceiling, her eyes filled with hope:
—I have faith in Saint Joseph it rains! Winter has begun as late as April before.”
Excerpt from O Quinze (“The Year Fifteen”), by Rachel de Queiroz
Northeastern folklore has it that if it rains on Saint Joseph's Day on March 19 there will be no drought in the sertão, Brazil's semi-arid backlands extending across the Northeast states of Ceará, Pernambuco, Alagoas, Sergipe, and northern Bahia. But the Meteorology and Water Resources Foundation of Ceará (FUNCEME) forecasts 2015 will be a dry year in the central area of the sertão.
In her book O Quinze (“The Year Fifteen”), Ceará-born author Rachel de Queiroz tells fictional stories based on the real-life suffering of people who lost it all in the great drought of 1915, one of the most severe ever. But like the character Dona Inácia, one century after the devastating drought, sertanejos (backlanders) still keep their faith and pray to Saint Joseph, the patron saint of Ceará.
This year it rained for days on end in almost all regions of Ceará between late February and early March. As the earth got moist, the peasants soon began sowing corn, beans, and prickly pears as forage crops for the “summer” (that's what they call the dry season in local parlance, as opposed to the "winter", the rainy season between February and May.) As if by miracle, the grayish vegetation in the semi-arid region bursts into lush shades of green at the first drops of rain.
The Intertropical Convergence Zone is changing the Atlantic dynamics to make it rain more regularly in the state. But even this trend can change. “There are no clear indications that the Atlantic changes will last. We can only hope they continue as they are and bring more rain to top up our dams,” FUNCEME meteorologist Raul Fritz explained.
In January, during a meeting of “rain tellers” (or “rain prophets”, as they are known locally), most of them had forecast it would not rain enough in the “winter” to fill the dams.“Don't mistake rain for winter,” warned one of them, Ribamar Lima.
So far, they're right. All of the 149 dams monitored by the Water Resources Management Company (COGERH) combined had only 19% of their total capacity as of March 9, and some of them were actually empty.
In Ceará, agriculture uses up 70% of all reservoir water. Experts say the only way to redress this “water gap” is to give the population priority in water use over the productive sectors.
But water security is only one factor that could make drought-stricken sertanejos put down roots in their semiarid homeland. Odaléa Severo, a specialist in the Articulação no Semiárido (ASA) umbrella organization, points out the government must also ensure access to land and ways to store food for people and animals. “You can't fight the drought. You need to find ways to improve life in semi-arid areas,” she said.
A lot of work has been done to ensure the sertanejos have access to water. Throughout the years, Brazil's government has set up agencies to build large dams and reservoirs – but it turned out they served private interest rather than the needs of poor communities. The largest of them was the National Department for Drought Relief Projects (DNOCS) which still needs restructuring and restaffing 106 years after its creation.
Last March 5, DNOCS technicians had to remove equipment and pipelines that supported a structure of wells and pumps to pull groundwater because the reserve was running out, a clear sign that the rainfall in February-March had not provided enough water to prevent another “Great Fifteen Drought”.
Translated by Mayra Borges
Fonte: Rain revives hopes of drought-stricken communities in Brazil
Edition: Lílian Beraldo / Olga Bardawil
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