The Brazilian Semi-arid is home to more than 23 million people. It is the largest and most populous semi-arid region in the world. Most of its inhabitants are small farmers and depend on agriculture or raising animals to survive. Right now, the area is facing one of its most prolonged drought periods. It’s six years since the last rainy season.
Access to water is one of the main challenges for life in the semi-arid region.
To many Brazilians, the idea of the sertão is heavily connected with drought and poverty.
But this idea could not be farther from the truth. Despite the shortage of rain, the “Sertanejos” (people who live in the semi-arid region the region is known as the sertão in Portuguese) have always found ways to gather water. They often rely on underground water. Drilling community wells or Cacimbas is one of the most common strategies for these communities to satiate the thirst of both animals and people. Even though the lack of rain can be faced by many as the main obstacle to life, the sertão thrives. With a growing number of projects aimed to fight the effects of the drought in the last decades, the region has become the largest producer of onions, wines, and goat and sheep products in the country.
The biggest project involving the region is the Integration Project for the São Francisco River, or the Transposição. The project consists of diverting water from the São Francisco river, the most important river in the entire northeast, and distributing it all between three states using artificial waterways. Its implementation is very problematic, and it is bringing nothing but suffering to some residents. Some don’t have any access to the water in the canals. Those who tried to use this water were both arrested and prosecuted by the government. The project has already cost the Brazilian government two billion dollars, and it will cost three billion more to finish. Worse, there is no sign that the water will improve life in the region.