Nine year old Gregório refuses to shower. Yes, you read that correctly! He absolutely refuses to shower, not because of childish stubbornness, but because he is fully committed to helping his 20 million neighbors in São Paulo find creative ways to conserve water during the unprecedented drought that has plagued the city over the past year.
Gregório is adamant about his “shower strike”. In order to save water, he explained to his mother that showering just once a week should be more than enough under the present times of hardship. With plenty of facial wipes handy, his mother is proud of his environmental commitment. However, this family as well as many paulistas and paulistanos face serious challenges to maintain a balance between their household needs and not placing any further strain on the environment.
An unprecedented drought has prompted São Paulo residents to develop creative alternatives towards water usage and equitable water distribution in both the wealthy neighborhoods as well as the poorer communities that surround them. The water scarcity has forced local governments to adopt water rationing, limiting water usage in residential neighborhoods to a few hours a day. However, like Gregório, the local people have taken it a step further. Innovative water saving systems, such as cisterns, have been popping up all over the city to store rainwater to water plants. Bathwater is also being recycled to flush toilets, and water is being recycled to wash more than one batch of clothes. In addition, São Paulo residents have been monitoring the water usage by construction firms and large corporations, to ensure water conservation from the private sector during this time of water scarcity. The water scarcity in São Paulo provides particularly interesting lessons for the sustainable use of natural resources and society’s engagement on conserving shared resources. Paulistas and paulistanos are creating smart water usage techniques and making better business decisions prompted by their increased interest in conservation, like the cisterns.
The public-private water enterprise operating in the state of São Paulo, Sabesp, acknowledged in its 2014 Sustainability Report that 80 percent of the affected population is already fully committed to reducing water consumption. The population’s engagement in developing creative solutions towards reducing water usage has resulted in a 30 percent reduction in water use in São Paulo thus far. More importantly, the water scarcity and the crisis prompted an unprecedented public engagement on an environmental issue in one of the most populous Brazilian states.
Furthermore, an average Brazilian citizen consumes approximately 166 liters of water a day, whereas the World Health Organization recommends using approximately 110 liters a day. The Brazilian climate and cultural differences may play a role on the 56 additional liters of water that an average Brazilian uses; however, the most significant water waste is from the public sector due to the poor water distribution system. The state of São Paulo, for instance, wastes approximately 34 percent of its water because of damaged pipes, leaky hydrants, and poor water-related infrastructure. Any attempts to conserve water in Brazil will have to also propose ways to update the public water system, in addition to making shifts in private water conservation to be sustainable.
As water resources become scarcer globally, creative solutions towards water usage and conservation will become necessary in metropolitan areas experiencing unprecedented drought. An environmental crisis has prompted citizens like Gregório to become self-appointed conservationists. This crisis sparked the ingenuity of regular paulistas and paulistanos in order to promote equitable water conservation for both public and private usage. The experience of the public sector and private citizens in São Paulo can continue to provide some guidance- both in terms of best practices and things to avoid- for other countries facing the same issue. As Gregório astutely said, “Mother Nature is suffering, Mum! I want to help her thrive.” Regardless of the approach one takes, showering is always optional!
What innovative methods are you using to conserve water in your city? Send us your stories and suggestions.