We arrived in the Sertão at the beginning of the worst drought the region has seen for the last 40 years. “Winter”, as the rainy season is called here, did not arrive this year. This part of the year, up until July, is typically the coolest time of year, with the main part of the rainy season over (January to March), but still with sporadic rainfall. However, this has not been the case. There have been two instances of rain since our arrival at the end of April, none of which strong enough to spur any plant growth. This has meant that the work being done here has taken on a different focus to a normal year at this time.
For us, coming from England where there are drought warnings despite nearly a month of continuous rain, this has brought around quite a dramatic change in our perceptions of water. Even within the community there are great differences in water access from one family to another. Whilst the house in which I am staying has a personal well – solely supplying this house – most of the other wells supply up to 10-11 houses. Due to the drought, IPA (The Pernambucan Agronomy Institute) has been offering to fill the people´s cisterns that have already run dry. To explain, these cisterns are built out of concrete slabs, with a 16,000 litre capacity to capture and store rain water for drinking and cooking. However, this does not solve
the problem of having water for irrigation, which means that most families have not planted many crops this year, often just trying to maintain their vegetable patches, in which they are still fighting a battle to keep what they have alive. Also, due to the amount of people in need of water, the waiting list for the refill is long. According to the Assembly held at the Rural Workers Union at Serra Talhada on 4th June, there is only enough water to keep refilling people’s cisterns for the next 30 days. After this there will be no more.
Another problem that is worsened during the drought is that the effluent from Serra Talhada is all released into the Pajeú River
, the river that runs through the middle of the community. Many people rely on this water for irrigation purposes, wash clothes and other uses. As the water supply diminishes, the effluent becomes more concentrated. This can cause health problems for the people living here. The fight for the clean-up of the river will be mentioned in a later article.
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A source of water for the people here are wells. There are various types of well, one which is a deeper well, called an artesian well, which supplies groundwater. The other one is called a amazonas well, which is shallow, and supplies water from the river. The worry at this time is that these wells will dry up and leave people with one less source of water.
This Wednesday, 30th May, the group of volunteers went with CECOR to witness the signing of the launch of the project “Pernambuco mais Produtivo” (To a More Productive Pernambuco). This project promises to build 15.5 thousand “calçadão” cisterns across the area of Pernambuco, one of the ways of capturing rainwater for use here in the Sertão. CECOR won Lot 2, one of the Sertão areas, which covers various areas, including the municipalities of Calumbi, Flores, Santa Cruz de Baixa Verde, Sertânia and Triunfo. In these areas 3,775 thousand “calçadão” cisterns and 20 “lined water pits” (barreiros lonados) are going to be built.
This project is going to help the people of the Pernambucan Sertão and the Agreste to better utilise rainwater, given that the pavement area increases the capture area for water (200 square metres). The cistern has a 52 thousand litre capacity, which needs 300 millimetres of rainwater to fill the water tank. It was the Governor, Eduardo Campos, who arrived to sign the project launch. These cisterns are a way of counteracting the problem of lack of water for crop irrigation, and therefore will help the Sertanejan people to better live with drought in the future.
During this period of drought it is important to keep planning for the future to be better prepared for these situations in the future. Investment in projects like the one above demonstrates a positive tendency in the Sertão on the part of the Government to support the Sertanejan people in their living with their surroundings.
On a more personal note, it was also very interesting to attend such an event, and to learn a bit more about how things work here in Brazil, on an official level.