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The immediate cause of the crisis is a year-long drought. The Cantareira reservoir system that supplies around a third of the city's population is so low that Sabesp, the local utility, has to dip into and treat sediment-heavy supplies and pipe water in from other sources.
It's the worst dry spell in the region since record-keeping began more than 80 years ago. Other parts of Sao Paulo state and Brazil have been hit, too, though not as harshly. It may look like an aberration, but the planning for the disaster has been poor - and offers important lessons.