‘’The number one rule when there’s a crisis in any field is that people know what’s happening because in a data policy during a crisis, not publishing a piece of information, even if it’s bad, is worse.” Carolina Cosse, Mayor of Montevideo.
The drought is hitting hard in Latin America, and its consequences are already being felt in the little country. While it’s not a new phenomenon, the lack of rainfall in the past three months reveals, along with concern, an uncertain fate for the agricultural and consuming population.
Drying fruit trees, dry reservoirs, animals without water in the countryside, and now water scarcity in Montevideo, Carrasco, and Canelones. Today, over 60% of the population is not receiving drinkable water.
The municipal government proposed 20 measures of various kinds on a national and Montevideo level to ensure the service for the next 30 days. Some of them include changes in tariffs, prohibiting excessive water usage, organizing systematic chains for those transporting water from different parts of the country, mapping critical systems, registering volunteers who are willing to open their wells in case of emergency, facilitating the importation of supplies for export, exempting taxes on bottled water while controlling prices, and implementing animal welfare policies, among others.
Although the crisis is aggravated by the drought, scientific organizations had already anticipated this problem for over 25 years. Through their proposals, they aimed to optimize the concentration, management, and distribution of water, but their initiatives were ignored.
Carlos Santos, a member of the Environment and Human Rights Group at Udelar, states in relation to an article he co-authored called “Water as an Environmental Subsidy for Agribusiness in Uruguay,” along with María Noel González and Martín Sanguinetti, that: “The main sectors consuming water are cellulose, dairy, soy, beef, and rice. In the work, they create a ‘water footprint’ for each sector, understood as ‘an indicator of freshwater use,’ which analyzes not only the direct water use by a consumer or producer but also the indirect water use […] considering the volume of freshwater used to produce the product, measured throughout the entire supply chain.”
“This indicator presents three levels of water consumption or loss: the blue water footprint, related to groundwater available that does not return to the source after evaporation; the green water footprint, the derivation of rainwater from its runoff; and the gray water footprint, referring to the volume of water needed to dilute pollution discharged into the water during the production process,” the text explains. However, it points out that the tool has one limitation: “It does not include the destruction of ecosystems and their positive natural processes on water purification.”
“It doesn’t include the effects on basin purification and climate change mitigation generated by grasslands, an ecosystem displaced by changes in land use. The expansion of forestry and soybean crops in the last decade has had negative consequences on water conditions for use in the supply of human populations. For the country’s surface waters, one of the main quality problems is eutrophication, meaning that the high concentration of nutrients generates a high level of primary productivity of cyanobacteria and microalgae, a phenomenon that compromises the sustainability of the systems’ life,” clarify the authors.
It is clear that there are multiple reasons leading to the current situation, aggravated by the drought. As well as the slowness that characterizes humans when making decisions while the earth burns.”