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Barlow highlights water crisis in Brazil on The Current

Maude Barlow, Anna Maria Tremonti.

Maude Barlow, Anna Maria Tremonti

Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow was on CBC Radio’s The Current this morning.

As prefaced on the CBC website, “Brazil has been called the Saudi Arabia of water and with fully 12 per cent of the world’s freshwater supplies, it might surprise you to hear that Brazil’s largest city is starting to run dry. We’re just now at the tail end of what’s supposed to be the region’s rainy season, but for this past month, many of the more than 11 million residents of Sao Paulo have been forced to severely ration what little water they get. Some go days without water. Others can access water but only at specific times. …For more on what’s behind this shortage, and what lessons it holds for the rest of the planet, we were joined by Maude Barlow. She is the National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians. She’s served as Senior Advisor on Water to the UN General Assembly. And she’s the author of Blue Future, Protecting Water for People and the Planet Forever.”

Some of the highlights from the 15-minute interview include Barlow saying:

“It’s not enough to talk about the end result, we have to ask what the problem is. It’s very clearly related to the destruction of the Amazon. The reason this matters is that air moving over rainforest carries twice as much rain as air coming over a desert or a cut down forest. So the forest gives off vapours that are called flying rivers, huge areas of humidity, then travel thousands of kilometres, that’s what deposits rain when it’s need in Sao Paulo and other places. That is the key here. When you cut down the Amazon. When you remove water from water retentive landscape or vegetation from water retentive landscape you interrupt the cycle.”

“They are taking down the Amazon to massively produce soybean, sugarcane both for ethanol for export and cattle. All of those not only remove the rainforest that creates the flying rivers, they also use a great deal of water to produce. Food production consumes water, it doesn’t put it back. So then if you are producing a commodity that is exported you are exporting that water away. It’s as if you were putting a massive pipe in the Guarani aquifer or in the water system that we’re talking about and sucking that water up and taking it away. It is water export, but it’s called virtual water. And it’s all the water that is embedded in the products we produce.”

“My deep belief is that we are not looking at the big picture when we create economic and development policy. Almost every government in the world bases all their policies on the growth imperative. Unlimited growth, more stuff, more trade, less regulation, more power to the corporations. It’s no coincidence that it’s good for certain wealthy groups that can buy their way out of this crisis. This system is destroying water. We do not have the right kind of thinking in most capitals.”

“Nor is there a program at the United Nations. Every year governments of the world get together and try to deal with this issue. There is no corresponding process or plan or thought around water. If they talk about water it’s as a result of climate change, but it’s not a result of climate change, the abuse of water and the displacement of water from where it should be, is one of the causes of climate change. And we absolutely need a separate process. Governments have to wake up.”

“They have to stop cutting down the Amazon. They have to stop exporting massive amounts of water out of their watersheds. They have to conserve. We all have to go back to watershed protection and conservation and restoration. We have to build every single policy, every economic policy, all our trade policy now has to be based around the protection and restoration of watersheds. If we don’t do this, we are going to be a world running out of water. The crisis in Brazil is going to happen and is happening in many other places.”

To hear the full interview, please click here. Barlow’s segment begins at the 14:46 point.

Further reading
A new water ethic for Brazil (June 2014 blog by Maude Barlow)
Water being rationed to 6 million people in Brazil (February 2014 blog)
The right to water and sanitation in Brazil (December 2013 blog)