The drought in the Brazilian Northeast is already considered the worst in 50 years. According to Agência Brasil, the governor of Paraiba, Ricardo Coutinho, has declared state of emergency in its 170 Municipalities. This number represents 76% of the 223 cities in the state. The leadership of the Center for Popular Education and Social Formation, a BrazilFoundation partner organization reflect on the impact of the drought in the semiarid region of Paraíba and on short, medium and long term solutions for the communities affected.

By José Dias and José Rego Neto*

The drought in the semiarid region of Paraíba has already greatly impacted the lives of family-based farmers. Still, there are lessons we can draw from it.

The primary consequences, raised during a meeting of community leaders and members of families currently benefiting from CEPFS programs, are disturbing: shortage of food and water for both human and animal consumption; increased food prices leading to hunger amongst financially fragile families; and increased migration from the country to the city, including to other regions within Brazil.

We realize that we need to be better prepared for periods of heavy rain, with increased storage of food and water – this may also be an opportunity to renew the effort to clean and excavate the ponds.

The water storage has led to an increase in the dengue mosquito infestation. Our participatory approach to projects has been temporarily amended to focus on emergency solutions. Faced with the weakness of local families, the domination of traditional politicians continues – and we’re in a municipal election year.

There is an urgent need for action by public managers to minimize these impacts in the short, medium and long term. The importance of social mobilization is also evident, in order to ensure that the public policies planned for this region are adjusted to meet the needs and the realities that climate change will impose.

In the short term, emergency measures are necessary. This includes declaration of a state of emergency; securing water supply through tank trucks; making food supply available from the federal government to avoid the sale of agricultural supplies and flock animals, assets that have been built over several years; and adjustment of market prices for cereals needed to feed their families.

In the medium and long term, it is necessary to implement policies that will strengthen the strategies that civil society has adopted to structure the properties of family farming, specifically in the areas of water and community management, aimed at storing water and food that will hopefully permit, in future drought, a better coexistence with the semiarid reality.


*José Dias is the Executive Coordinator and  José Rego Technical Advisor of CEPFS, Center for Popular Education and Social Formation, a BrazilFoundation grantee in 2006, 2008, 2011 and 2012.


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