Severe drought in Brazil destroying herds and lives
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A long-term drought is wiping out ranches and threatening to destroy entire communities in Brazil. The 19-month drought has deprived northeastern Brazil of significant rainfall resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of animals and igniting conflict between people competing for scarce water supplies.
Cattle die in droves as an oppressive drought stretches into its 19th month.
BRASILIA, BRAZIL (Catholic Online) - The drought is the most significant in the region in 50 years and many inhabitants are reduced to praying for rain, with little other recourse. Cattle ranches, which are common in the area, have seen unprecedented die-offs of herds as animals are left without food to eat.
Many ranchers have been forced to sell all or most of their herds to buy food for their remaining cattle - food that the cattle sometimes refuse because they are unaccustomed to eating processed grain.
What happens to the cattle matters because much of the northeast's economy is dependent on the cattle. Beef, milk, and leather come from the region and supply much of the country. Now, as herds perish in the heat, supplies of those good are rapidly dwindling.
Locals have even started to fight over water supplies, igniting conflicts referred to as "water wars." An average of one person per day has been killed in these conflicts across the region.
Meanwhile, the government has diverted money from an ambitious, but stalled irrigation project to provide some emergency relief to farmers and ranchers.
The irrigation project would bring water across the country to the devastated region, but the project has been hampered by bureaucracy and corruption. At the same time, reservoirs are running dry. As water truck drivers make their deliveries, they often participate in the corruption too - refusing to deliver water in some cases unless locals promise to vote for certain political candidates.
Persistent drought is a feature of the Earth's dynamic climate and it is unclear just what causes droughts in some places and floods in others. Certainly, global climate change has some effect, but even without climate change, long-term, persistent droughts are always happening somewhere.
Drought is one of the great destroyers of civilizations with historic droughts being blamed by some historians for the downfall of great civilizations such as the Sumerians in the Middle East and the Maya in the Yucatan.
In Brazil, the great tragedy is that the people have the means to alleviate the drought, by completing the network of canals that will deliver water to their farms and ranches, but they cannot accomplish this because of other domestic concerns.
For the time, the fate of hundreds of thousands of cattle, and the lives of the people who depend on them, remains very much in doubt.
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