Dramatic Photos Show Brazil’s Crippling Drought

São Paulo’s 20 million people are suffering in a historic crisis.

South America’s largest city is having its worst drought in a century. The city’s reservoir system is at historic low levels and may be completely dry by August.

A drought seems like a strange concept in a country that still appears relatively lush and which is home to 12 percent of the world’s freshwater.

“It doesn’t look dry here like in California,” says Tommaso Protti, an Italian photographer who has lived in São Paulo for the past year.

The causes of the drought include large-scale weather patterns, deforestation (which has changed cloud formation), a soaring urban population, insufficient and leaky infrastructure, pollution of local streams, and lack of planning.

“Many people think the government hasn't taken enough measures to avoid the crisis,” says Protti. “There have been protests in the streets.”

While some areas of the city still have reasonably good water delivery, several peripheral areas are nearly cut off. The crisis hit home for Protti late last year, when his downtown apartment building lost water for a week. Some residents are buying water from tanker trucks while others are going without doing laundry or washing dishes.

Since Brazil gets about 80 percent of its electricity from hydropower, lower water levels may also threaten the country’s energy sector.

“I really wanted to focus on the variety of factors involved in the drought,” Protti says of his photographs.