Drought and Unreliable Public Utilities Make Access to Drinking Water a Challenge for São Paulo’s Residents
In July 2014, São Paulo suffered its greatest water crisis in 80 years. Extreme drought completely dried up the Cantareira water supply system, leaving 8.8 million city residents without access to drinking water. Ivaneide, who lives with her husband, two daughters, and grandson, lives in the hilltop Lapa neighborhood in northern São Paulo and remembers this crisis well.
Though Sao Paulo’s tiered pricing for piped water offers lower rates for low-income residents like Ivaneide ($1.79 for 10 cubic meters per month, compared to the normal fare of $6.89), the cost and quality of water are still major concerns.
“Today, we buy the water. Previously we used the tap, which was treated and safe. But after the lack of water, we don’t use it for drinking anymore.” While Ivaneide earns between US $251 and $378 as a self-employed seamstress, she now spends nearly $25 buying water from a private vendor each month to supplement her piped water supply because she worries that the quality of the piped water is poor. Even before the drought, Ivaneide distrusted the municipal water supply, which she says was “a little earth-colored, too chlorinated. We did not risk drinking it because of its appearance.”
The cost of supplementing her water supply is even more burdensome considering the increasing cost of her other utilities. Because hydropower supplies much of Brazil’s electricity, Ivaneide notes that the cost of light is also increasing. Although she has learned to control her tap water supply by turning the register during the afternoon when the water supply stops, and turning it back on at night, she still saves as much water as she can in anticipation of another draught.
She also pays an additional sewage tax, on top of her water tax, of approximately $5 per 10 square meters of water, but she speculates this water is dumped untreated into the Tiete River. “The Tiete River is clean in some places,” but not where Ivaneide lives; “if our Tiete was clean, or if the water was treated, we would not have much trouble with water.” She is concerned that diseases are spread by the river’s pollution and waste, and takes care to keep her drinking water “very well capped” to keep mosquitoes from contaminating her supply.