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From Floods to Water Scarcity: The Various Impacts of Climate Change in Brazil

Jackeline Thomaz Giovenardi

Translation: Ligia Payao Chizolini


 The heavy rains that have hit the state of Rio Grande do Sul in recent weeks have affected more than 2.5 million people, according to data from Fiocruz, bringing to light the issue of climate change, especially in Brazil. However, in 2023, the Amazon River Basin faced a drought caused by sparse rainfall and high temperatures throughout the year in the region (WWA, 2024). The water crisis in the Amazon reached historic proportions, impacting more than 600,000 inhabitants (Nogueira et al, 2022).

Between 2020 and 2022, approximately 25 million people were affected by drought and dry spells in Brazil, about six times more than by floods. There were 4,195 drought events with human damage, about 3.5 times more than flood events (1,188). In 2022, more than 7 million people were impacted by droughts and dry spells, with 1,212 events recorded. In terms of human damage, 2021 was more critical than 2022, with about 700,000 more people affected by droughts and dry spells. In 2022, most drought events occurred in the Northeast Region (45.1%), followed by the South (39.0%) and Southeast (12.1%) regions. Approximately 58% of the people affected by droughts and dry spells in 2022 resided in the Northeast Region (ANA, 2023).

These events are partially attributed to the El Niño climate phenomenon, which causes dry conditions in the north and abundant rains in the south of the country (Nogueira et al, 2022). However, the drought was exacerbated by historical land, water, and energy management practices such as deforestation, vegetation destruction, fires, biomass burning, corporate agriculture, livestock, and other socio-climatic problems. These practices reduced the land's capacity to retain water and moisture, worsening the drought conditions (WWA, 2024).

The water crisis in the country is directly attributed to the degradation of Brazilian biomes, whose recurring droughts and shortages play a crucial role in the hydrological cycle and water availability (Nogueira et al, 2022). In 2023, the Cerrado surpassed the Amazon for the first time, recording the largest deforested area among the biomes, totaling 1,110,326 hectares. The Amazon ranked second, with 24.8% of the deforested area in Brazil (454,271 hectares), followed by the Caatinga in third place, with 11% of the area (201,687 hectares). The Pantanal represented 2.7% of the country's total deforestation, totaling 49,673 hectares. As for the Atlantic Forest, 12,094 hectares were deforested, corresponding to 0.7% of the total deforested area in the country. The Pampa accounts for the smallest deforestation area, representing 0.1% of the total (MAPBIOMAS, 2024).

Factors such as deforestation, soil erosion, reduced rainfall, and increased water demand contribute to the condition of water scarcity. Water crises affect all uses of water, including non-consumptive ones such as navigation, fishing, tourism, and leisure, albeit with varying intensities (Rodriguez et al, 2022). According to the annual report "Water Resources Situation in Brazil," the sectoral consumptive use of water in Brazil is mainly for irrigation (50.6%), human supply both urban and rural (24%), animal supply (8.1%), industry (9.4%), mining, and thermoelectric plants (1.6%) (ANA, 2023).

According to the study "Impact of Climate Change on Water Resources in Brazil," by 2040, water availability may decrease by more than 40% in the hydrographic regions of the North, Northeast, Midwest, and part of the Southeast. With this reduction, there is a tendency for an increase in the number of intermittent river stretches (which temporarily dry up), especially in the Northeast region (ANA, 2024). The variation in water availability, especially during prolonged drought periods, compromises quality and reduces flows, leading to a drastic decrease in water storage in reservoirs and springs. Episodes of hydrological droughts have the power to trigger or exacerbate conflicts related to water use, even in regions not naturally affected by water scarcity conditions (Rodriguez et al, 2022).

Although there are already several studies that highlight water scarcity issues in the country, it is necessary to intensify state-level drought contingency and water management plans, as well as invest in infrastructure to deal with more intense future droughts, aiming to manage possible conflicts related to water resources.


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