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Brazil’s Water Crises: See How One Disaster Can Turn into Many

The truth is, it’s never just one disaster that causes a collapse. It’s often a series of problems that compound and feed each other, begetting more calamities until the system buckles.

droughtIf you take a look through history, you’ll see the rise and fall of numerous civilizations. Many armchair historians are quick to point to these examples, and say their decline was caused by drought, or war, or economic collapse. But the truth is, it’s never just one disaster that causes their collapse. It’s often a series of problems that compound and feed each other, begetting more calamities until the system buckles.

It’s easy to notice these sorts of conditions being inflicted on America today, but I think the best example in the Western Hemisphere is probably Brazil. Right now they’re going through one of the worst droughts in history, and if current rates of consumption continue, cities like Sao Paulo may be out of water in 4-6 months. After three straight years of drought, there’s even talk of rationing the water to such an extreme degree, that they’ll have to shut off the municipal supply to the public for 5 days a week.

At 20 million people, the Sao Paulo metropolitan area is considered a megacity, on par with Los Angeles or New York. Could you imagine something like that happening in an American city? I supposes there are certain parallels to be seen in California’s metropolitan areas, but their situation is far worse.

For starters, they’ve been much more wasteful with their water. California has received a pretty bad rap for wasting water, but they’ve got nothing on Sao Paulo. Only about 30 percent of their sewage is treated, and the rest is dumped back into the environment. The rivers running through the city are basically open sewers. If they had spent the time and money to treat their sewage, then the city would’ve been able to tap these rivers during the drought.

See how that works? If a society is irresponsible in one way, eventually it’ll cause bigger and more expensive problems down the road. If those problems can’t be solved, then you can expect them to cause even bigger problems. It’s kind of like taking out a payday loan to get through a rough patch. It may pay the bills for one month, but you also might end up paying down that loan for years to come.

So how is this drought going to start creating new problems at an exponential rate? Well with more people trying to collect rain water, there’s already more mosquitos breeding in the city. This has caused the number dengue fever cases to triple over the previous year. But so far that issue is still pretty small. The real crisis at hand is their power supply. With the reservoirs at record low levels, their dams may not be able to produce power for much longer. For a country that receives 70 percent of its power from hydroelectric sources, that could be catastrophic.

And since Sao Paulo is Brazil’s most economically productive city, this drought threatens to cause a nationwide economic collapse. Brazil is already in the throes of recession, so having a disaster of this magnitude play out in their most profitable city, could push their nation over the edge; a situation which is not exactly unheard of for them.

You can already see how these problems might continue to metastasize. With a rapidly deteriorating economy, there will be even less money to revamp their infrastructure, which means the water pollution situation will only get worse. Power shortages might also cause food shortages and malnourishment, which might lead to more disease. And without enough water, essential services like hospitals will be severely hamstrung.

And on and on it goes, an endless feedback loop of self-destruction. It can be stopped at any time though, but the longer they wait, the harder it becomes to stop. That’s because the sacrifices required to pull back become greater after each disastrous cycle of this feedback loop. In the beginning, the sacrifices would have been small. The government would have had to buckle down and fix their water infrastructure. Instead, they kicked the can down the road, and the sacrifices required to shore up the system now are more severe.

These are the situations that tell you everything you need to know about the society you live in. Crises like this have happened to every civilization in history, sometimes on several occasions. Usually society will pull together, adapt, and do their best to ride through the storm. It can go down in history as their finest hour.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t always end that way. Sometimes society isn’t willing to step back from their unsustainable habits. Each individual just assumes that it’s someone else’s problem (which is a pretty common sentiment in large cities), and somehow the crisis will just solve itself. If that attitude becomes endemic to every strata of society, from the industrialists to the politicians, to even the working class and the poor, then that society will fail. Their situation may work out for a long time, but once they face adverse conditions, that society will just cycle down into oblivion, as described above.

So if you’ve been working on a preparedness plan, keep a very close eye on Brazil. You’re about to see a living example of what happens to a modern nation that is pushed to the brink. This is a water crises we’re talking about. They’re running out of the most precious resource on Earth, and we’re about to see their nation fundamentally change for the better, or fall into chaos. Either way, there will be a lot to learn for any would-be preppers out there.


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This article was originally published at Ready Nutrition™ on February 15th, 2015

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