Operations from the Brazilian Army (EB, in Portuguese) are vital to thousands of residents in cities suffering the effects of the worst drought in recent years in southern Brazil’s Rio Grande do Sul state. “A person can go 10 days without food, but more than three days without water puts your life at risk. That’s why communities welcomed us with joy when we arrived here with water,” said EB Lieutenant Colonel Jetson Machado da Silva, commander of the 4th Logistics Battalion (BLog, in Portuguese) of the 6th Armored Infantry Brigade, located in Santa Maria in central Rio Grande do Sul.
The battalion is one of the arms EB extends since February 2018 to assist the state’s Civil Defense agency in mitigating the problems the drought created. Scarce rainfall began in December 2017 and intensified in the first three months of 2018. Municipalities in the southern part of the state—cities along the border between Uruguay and Argentina—still feel the effect.
“On a Thursday, we received a request from the town council of Caçapava do Sul, one of the most affected cities 260 kilometers from Porto Alegre, the capital of the state of Rio Grande do Sul. On Friday, we sought further details from the authorities. We then did some ground reconnaissance on Monday, and, by Tuesday, our troops were already headed there, trucking water by road to cater to families,” Lt. Col. Jetson explained.
The 4th BLog operated from February until March 27th, bringing water to residents in nearly 20 rural parts of Caçapava do Sul. “A lot of those places are hard to reach, and the bridges are rickety. We brought water to poor families and even upper middle-class families,” Lt. Col. Jetson said.
The work of service members involved two weekly activities. They filled up the battalion’s two water trucks—one with an 18,000-liter capacity and the other holding 15,000 liters of water—at reservoirs of the Rio Grande Sanitation Company supplied. Trucks were then dispatched to communities. Town councils furnished the fuel for the vehicles.
“Wherever there’s a water canister, we fill it. Our troops happily carry out this mission. It’s not our top priority, but it’s the kind of assistance we always provide to Civil Defense,” Lt. Col. Jetson said. “This kind of initiative properly illustrates two of EB's values: a strong arm and a helping hand. In northern Brazil, for instance, we have Operation Water Truck [Pipa, in Portuguese], and we assist here as much as we can when called upon,” he added.
According to the Civil Defense agency, the weather phenomenon led 24 cities in Rio Grande do Sul—541,000 residents in all—to declare a state of emergency. The agency reported that the economic damage is estimated at $294 million, according to figures from the Rural Space Technical Assistance Company. The greatest economic losses occur with grain crops such as soy, the area’s primary product.
Bagé, the city closest to the border with Uruguay, was hit hardest by the 2018 drought. Its 122,000 residents have no end-date in sight for water rationing. People in the neighborhoods and rural areas go through periods with and without water. Authorities conduct the rationing12 hours a day, but EB’s helping hand is present throughout the region.
“We’ll continue to help for as long as the drought lasts,” said Brazilian Major General José Ricardo Vendramin Nunes, commander of the 3rd Mechanized Cavalry Brigade (3ª Bda C. Mec, in Portuguese), headquartered in Bagé. “Whenever there’s a crisis, such as with water scarcity, we have prior authorization to act,” Maj. Gen. Vendramin explained, adding that the force also operates in floods. “These are the resources the Army placed at the service of the population.”
Water scarcity affected territories with large tracts of land used for farming and raising livestock. Maj. Gen. Vendramin said EB’s water trucks cover up to 60 kilometers in one day. “The lack of water keeps many children home from school in rural areas.”
The 3rd BLog of Bagé, connected to the 3ª Bda C. Mec, also provides relief to residents of neighboring municipalities like Hulha Negra, Candiota, and Pedras Altas. Reservoirs managed by the Bagé Municipal Water, Streams, and Sewage Department, hold the water. “In five Bagé neighborhoods alone, 30,000 people a day benefit from one of our water trucks, with a capacity to transport 24,000 liters,” Maj. Gen. Vendramin said.
“Natural disasters hit this region of Rio Grande do Sul the hardest,” said EB Major Rinaldo da Silva Castro, who serves in the General Staff of the State Military Brigade and commands the 6th Civil Defense and Regional Protection Coordination Unit. Maj. Castro referred to a 70-square-kilometer area—equivalent to 25 percent of the territory of Rio Grande do Sul—affected most by the droughts of March or where conditions still persist.
“Municipalities don’t have these vehicles [water trucks], and they aren’t experienced in dealing with the harsh terrain of the interior,” said Maj. Castro. “Today, the Army is the best prepared federal entity to help during disaster events. That's why this service agency is essential. Without this help, it would be difficult to get water, a fundamental resource for survival, out to the communities.”
EB engaged in another relief effort in July 2017, during the worst flooding in the last 20 years of the Uruguay River and its tributaries, on the border with Argentina. “The Army helped us evacuate residents from their flooded homes, set up humanitarian shelters and even place mobile patrols out in the country with doctors to treat sick patients in different places,” Maj. Castro said. “The Army provided tremendous assistance. I hope the force will always remain at the ready.”