En route to my expedition to study the impact of introduced species on the seabirds of Fernando de Noronha in the Atlantic Ocean off the north-east coast of Brazil, I’ve arrived in São Paulo after 16 hours of flights from New Zealand, and I’m keen for a shower. A little bit unfortunately for me, but much more so for the rest of São Paulo, the city is falling in to the grip of its worst drought since 1930, when records began. If rainfall doesn’t come soon, city officials speak of moving to water rations for five-days-off two-days-on.
As we drive to my hotel along the dry canals of the Tietê River bisecting São Paulo I see a lone pair of capybara munching on dry vegetation beside the traffic. My host Ricardo from the University of São Paulo veterinary school tells me most of the formally abundant capybara have now moved outside of the central canal to the more vegetated exteriors. With the major reservoir at less than five percent of its trillion-liter capacity I’m not sure the capybara will have any better pickings outside of town either.
At the hotel I finally manage to have a quick shower which is ironically much shorter of water than those I’ve previously had on remote islands, such as the Antipodes out of a bucket of warm water in the castaway depot. In retrospect that seemed excessive. My final destination for this trip, the remote Brazilian archipelago of Fernando de Noronha, is naturally a very dry place. With no freshwater on the island a desalination plant helps provide for the needs of the 4,000 residents and tourists.
In São Paulo, a city with over 20 million people and the southern hemisphere’s largest, the provisioning of water in its natural absence will be a much, much more challenging task.