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Brazil: São Paulo’s water crisis on film


The hidden truth behind the most severe water shortage in the history of São Paulo

How did a city of nearly 12 million inhabitants (nearly 20 million in its metropolitan area) come within a whisker of running out of drinking water? How is water used in São Paulo state and how does the state government manage the supply? The 44 million inhabitants of Brazil’s most populous state need to know the answers in order to hold to account a state government which claims that everything is under control.

Dried out reservoir. Photo: GreenerCitiesIn midst of the greatest water shortage in history in Brazil’s most populated state, São Paulo government officials and the mainstream media have been dealing with the crisis with superficial measures and an almost complete absence of explanation to the public. The audiovisual research project ”Volume Vivo”(Live Volume in English) has undertaken to investigate the real causes and possible solutions to the drought that has blighted Brazil’s southeast region. Volume Vivo’s project leader, the environmental film director Caio Silva Ferraz, released in 2010 “Entre Rios” (Between Rivers), a 25-minute web documentary as the final thesis for his bachelor’s degree. The film has been viewed more than 600,000 times on YouTube and has been widely used in schools and colleges as a teaching aid which charts the history of São Paulo’s underground river. Ferraz and his team are currently working on a series of three 20-minute episodes, to be published on the web, linked to  the original audiovisual research project, and financed by a crowd- funding appeal in November 2014. The first episode, “The crisis denial”, and launched on April 16th,  talks about the resistance of the São Paulo government to admitting the gravity of the collapse in water resources. The reservoirs, currently at historically low levels, provide water to 49% of greater São Paulo’s population. The next episode in the series should be launched by the end of the year. The work is based on the premise that moments of crisis provide the best opportunity to raise awareness about the vital use of water. Contrary to common belief water, in this economically strategic region of Brazil, is a limited natural resource. The lack of transparency from the city’s management, which claims that water supplies are unlimited; the importance of  forested areas for water catchment; and the pros and cons of privatisation of this public good, are some of the themes covered in the web series Volume Vivo”. Backed by TV news footage, testimonials from specialists and interviews with members of the public whose lives have been already affected by water shortages in their homes, the web series is a call to arms for the inhabitants of São Paulo to demand the decentralisation of water management and the involvement of the public in the process of finding and implementing solutions.

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