Before and after photos show the shocking extent of Sao Paulo's water crisis

Southeastern Brazil is in the middle of its worst drought in eight decades

Published October 24, 2014 6:33PM (EDT)

  (Jesse Allen, NASA Earth Observatory)
(Jesse Allen, NASA Earth Observatory)

Sao Paulo's got problems. Big ones. Like California, the southeastern Brazilian state and 2014 World Cup host is in the midst of an ongoing drought -- its worst in eight decades -- leading to a severe water crisis. Factories are halting productionmillions are struggling to access clean water and the president of Brazil’s National Water Agency is warning that, without rain, there's a risk that "the region will have a collapse like we’ve never seen before."

Its reservoir system, meanwhile, is at a critical low -- so much so that the extreme shortage can be seen from space. NASA recently posted these before and after images of the Jaguari Reservoir, the first from the middle of last August, and the second from Aug. 3 of this year. The difference is striking:

Rainfall's been scarce since last December-January, the region's wettest season, when it ended up getting only about a third to half of its typical rain. Since then, the year's rainfall is 300 to 400 millimeters below average, according to NASA, and the entire Cantareira Reservoir System, of which Jaguari is a part, is down to about 3 percent of capacity.

As conditions worsen, more attention is being paid to the ways in which human activity may be worsening the crisis. “For the dry season, coincidence or not, it looks exactly like what has been predicted by IPCC for a warmer climate," climate scientist Marcos Heil Costa explained. "And it is now clear that our policies on management of water resources are unsustainable. No city in southeast Brazil seems prepared to handle a drought like this one."

By Lindsay Abrams

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Brazil Drought Sao Paulo Drought Water Crisis