Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Sao Paulo – Down to the Last Drop

Several health issues are already festering in water-starved Sao Paulo, Brazil as the historic drought continues to affect this mega-city of about 11 million. A spike in dengue fever cases has been reported as a result of citizens maintaining secret caches of water which harbor mosquitoes that carry the disease. This drought represents another kind of natural disaster which when it strikes a high-density mega-city can cause damage in a different way: civil unrest. In an earthquake or hurricane civil unrest such as looting takes place after the event has taken place.

In the case of a drought, normally law-abiding citizens seeking a quickly depleting and scarce resource will gradually resort to desperate unethical, illegal and even violent methods to secure survival items to protect themselves and their families. Unfortunately the wet season of January through February has already passed with little relief, thus Sao Paulo may experience even more severe shortages and resulting illnesses for lack of clean water and sanitation.

Water trucks are useful with respect to short-term relief, however a longer-term solution will certainly be more logistically challenging and costly because a drought impacts the entire metropolis not a neighborhood or sector specific. The additional cost will occur when infectious diseases increase dramatically as a result of lack of cleaning water and sanitation. Hospitals and medical centers will have water rationed and law enforcement, not exactly held in the highest esteem in Brazil, will be overwhelmed as the cycle of violence spins out of control.

This case study is developing daily before our eyes and it’s incumbent upon the municipal governments of other mega-cities worldwide to immediately put in place working contingency plans to combat nature’s service cut-offs. Those who already have such contingency plans should review them to include previously unanticipated impacts. There is a legitimate security concern with respect to cyber-attacks on infrastructure and the electrical grid, yet more frequently the greatest impacts are a result of Mother Nature especially during this period of radical climate change, and who wields more power than all the terrorist groups combined today.

With the continual growth of current mega-cities and newly emerging ones, food security must be one of the top priorities at all levels of government to mitigate pandemics and the resulting civil unrest. These policies are usually applicable on a nation basis with respect to agricultural and securing food imports and storage. A more specific food security policy must be articulated to provide the necessary logistics (suitable storage and distribution) for local needs.

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