Water Outages and Rationing in São Paulo, Brazil Lead to Protests



The Movement of Landless Workers (MTST) has been protesting since the afternoon of Thursday [September 25th] outside the headquarters of the Basic Sanitation Company of the State of São Paulo (SABESP) in Pinheiros, west of the capital. Like the protest that ended in violence in Itu (SP) earlier in the week, the movement reports water shortages already imposed in several districts of the city – which the state government has denied for months.

On the facebook page for MTST, the following statement was posted: “We live on the outskirts of the city and have faced the challenges of a terrible water supply service, budget cuts and abusive accounting, problems that are constantly in our homes. The water was privatized and became a very profitable industry as well. Now we have an even worse service! Rationing has begun! It started at the periphery. We are now facing days without water. And when the water does finally arrive, it has a strange color, taste and odor!”

One of the goals of the MTST demonstration was to occupy the SABESP building, which Governor Geraldo Alckmin (PSDB) said made “no sense.” For him, the company is “sweating through its shirt” to ensure the water supply to the population of the metropolitan area. “I hope it does not happen (the occupation). It would be meaningless. SABESP is a company that is sweating through its shirt to provide water during a very difficult drought,” the governor said after visiting the Tietê Várzeas Linear Park, on the east side of the capital.

The protest began in Largo da Batata in Pinheiros, around 3 PM and started to move towards the headquarters of SABESP in the same region. According to Veja, leaders were received by directors of the company at around 5 PM. Later, the protesters blocked the road on Marginal Pinheiros for a few minutes in the middle of rush hour traffic.

The protest also continued along Avenida Faria Lima, with many returning to the Largo da Batata around 9 PM. The MTST say the goal of the demonstration “is to demand solutions and denounce the ongoing rationing being done in the outskirts of São Paulo and the lack of government responses to the issue.” In the vicinity of Largo da Batata and the SABESP building, policing has been strengthened since the beginning of the demonstration, which ironically the MTST targeted.

According to the movement, a list of neighborhoods affected by the cuts in the water supply was presented at a meeting with Governor Alckmin in July, but the entity failed to respond. Since the crisis began in the Cantareira System in January, the Utility and the government have denied that water was rationed, despite complaints from the public.

A recent IBOPE survey, released earlier this month by the newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo, showed that 50% of São Paulo reported experiencing an interruption in water supply in their homes in the last three days. Statewide, the rate was 38%. According to the survey, 37% of São Paulo citizens blame the water shortage on the lack of rainfall in the region of the watershed. Another 14% blame consumer waste, 13% blame Governor Alckmin, 13% blame the problem of supply and another 8% on the lack of infrastructure investment.

Besides the water issue, the MTST states that the protests also aim to “denounce the current evictions and those that are planned for the coming weeks” throughout the city. They cite the occupation of Chico Mendes, in the Morumbi neighborhood, in southern part of the capital. “The city of São Paulo and the state government have demonstrated that calling in the police force is a solution to the evicted families,” according to the organization.

November 21st is the date appointed by the São Paulo Secretary of State for Water Resources, Mauro Arce, as the termination date of the first batch of dead volume in the Cantareira System. This means that for at least fifty-two days the water supply is guaranteed in Greater São Paulo. Previously, SABESP reported that this quota was scheduled to end on October 27.

The forecast takes into account the situation of drought, if there is not significant rainfall. Arce said the pumps are ready to start capturing another part of the volume below the floodgates in the Jaguari Jacarei dam. However, the second installment of dead volume still depends on the complete end of the current batch, as well as a permit from the National Water Agency (ANA), which must receive a request from the state government.

According to SABESP, the reservoir levels of Cantareira were at a 7.4% capacity level on September 25th. Governor Alckmin maintains his optimism that the city will not need to resort to the second batch. “The months of September, October and November, have all received rain for the past 84 years, the rain will come,” said Arce.


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