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Brazil's famed Carnival celebrations are just around the corner, but Brazilians haven't had have much to celebrate recently. Deep political divides, a collapsing economy and a disappointing loss on their home turf during last year's soccer World Cup have all contributed to the country's woes.
And now the hedonistic celebrations that precede the beginning of Lent may be dealt a crippling blow by a severe drought that has cities like São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro struggling to supply water to thirsty citizens.
Rio – home to the country's largest and most famous Carnival celebration – is taking drastic measures to make sure they can supply water to the almost one million tourists who are already arriving for festivities that officially start this weekend and run until Ash Wednesday, on Feb. 18.
While authorities said there is no imminent risk of the city running out of water, hotels and restaurants aren't taking any chances. Rio's Hotel Industry Association has asked its members to take more vigorous measures to conserve water. The city's hotel and restaurant union is also planning for a water scarcity.
The drought is also affecting the festivities themselves as several street parades have had to cancel the use of water tank trucks traditionally used to refresh party-ers.
"The governor said there is no risk of water shortages in the short term, and Cedae (Rio's water utility) said the city won't run out of water during Carnival, but there is always concern," Antonio Pedro Figueira de Mello, the city's tourism secretary, said in an interview this week, according to Reuters.
"The situation is serious, and we need to conserve water," he added.
For the first time since 1978, the Paraibuna reservoir, the largest of four that supply Rio de Janeiro state, dropped on Jan. 21 to "dead volume" level – which means water is inaccessible. Five days later, the Santa Branca reservoir dropped to a historic low.
The country's southeastern cities – like São Paulo and Porto Alegre – have been the hardest hit with the region experiencing its worst drought in at least 80 years after an unusually dry year depleted their reservoirs.
São Paulo's water utility, Sabesp, says a five-days-off, two-days-on system would be a last-ditch effort to prevent the collapse of the Cantareira water system of interconnected reservoirs.
The Cantareira reservoir is the largest of six that provide water to some of the 20 million people living in the metropolitan area of São Paulo. Sabesp says Cantareira is now down to 5.1 percent of its capacity of 264 billion gallons.
Sabesp official Paulo Massato Yoshimoto said late last month that "rationing could happen if rainfall does not increase in the reservoir area soon."
Scientists say the drought is linked to continuing deforestation of the Amazon, which has reduced the amount of condensation that rises from the forest and falls further south as rain.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.