When I arrived in Brazil for the first time, I remember something that stood out in my mind about Brazil and the people. I was sitting on the bus traveling across town, when I noticed a woman using a hose as a broom. She was literally washing the dirt from the street with the hose. It crossed my mind that maybe there was
something really sticky and it was bothering her, or maybe some dog poop. What I didn't think, was that this behavior was a daily routine.

Having grown up in the western states, I was not unfamiliar with water conservation. We were frequently asked to take turns with irrigation and we were not allowed to use the hose during certain parts of the day. There were workshops and classes about how to conserve water. Teachers taught students how to brush their teeth without wasting water. I remember commercials about leaky faucets and water waste.  It was just common knowledge that you don't use a hose as a broom.

After a few weeks of living in Brazil, I began to realize that the people here have never been concerned about water conservation. Perhaps the torrential rains each year, guaranteed the population would survive from year to year without ever having to ask the "what if" questions. What ever the reasons may be for not educating the people, the consequences are far worse than I imagined.

Most of Brazil has been in a drought for the past year. While the rain didn't fall, the country was still busy making sure the front yard (which is usually covered in tile) was clean. Life was as usual, making sure the fences, sidewalks and cars were all clean and shiny. As the months ticked by without rain, nobody seemed to notice the reservoir getting dangerously low. 

What happened when the water started to run out? Think about it, what would happen if your city ran out of water? Would it be calmly and rationally attended to? Would there be pandemonium? Would it result in selfishness and violence, or,  would people unite and help each-other?  

What happened here was a complete shock to me. I never imagined it would turn out like it did, and with just a minor threat to the water supply.

 At first, they started threatening people with fines if they saw you with your hose on.  If you want to wash your yard, your neighbors yard or the street, you need to use the grey water from the washing machine. Then when that didn't work, they started to ration the water. They would simply cut off the supply to neighborhoods on a random basis. Of course they said the rations were organized but after several neighborhood went for months without water, it was obvious there was no rational to the process.

Next step, the areas where the water had ran out, they shipped in a few tankers of water. The people were forced to walk long distances to get to the tanker and haul the water back home. Obviously it wasn't nearly enough for the basic needs. People were left with no water for showers or washing clothes.

The town next to mine skipped all the stages of withdrawal symptoms and went straight to riots, protests and demanding the mayor declare a state of emergency. Of course he didn't, so they responded with more protests which caused damage to public property. When that didn't get any attention, they started stealing water from the people who had it. There were people and businesses who had hundreds of dollars of water stolen from their tanks. People were waking up to find their tanks had been siphoned in the night.

The elections happened during this crisis and of course it was one of the hot topics to discuss. Everyone pointing and wagging fingers in the faces of others. It was all a difficult thing to watch, a society collapsing because of a general lack of education on one water conservation.

What was it all for?

It all ended this week (at least in the region where I live) with three days of rain. The rains came... heaven opened up the flood gate and let us have it. The poorly engineered streets flooded in seconds; the shopping malls with their duct tap and wire construction opened at the seams and the waters poured in causing people to seek shelter from the shelter; newly formed waterfalls sprang from the light sockets (so pretty); trains stopped on railways which were washed out by mud slides; houses where landlords had scrimped on construction, caved in or flooded... and the people cheered.

Upon waking this morning the newspapers are all declaring the end of the drought. Amazing how 3 days restores business as usual. That's right, let us forget about the complete lack of education, infrastructure, safety and lets focus on the fact that we can now use our hoses to wash our front yards again.


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