Amid Brazil's Stadium Boom, a Massive Water Infrastructure Project Drags On

The diversion plan has doubled in cost and remains years away from completion.

A massive public works project in Brazil meant to bring water to its drought-prone northeast was supposed to be finished by 2010. Four years later (eight years since the project broke ground), it's only halfway done.

Officials planned to divert water from the São Francisco river into a 297-mile network of canals, aqueducts and reservoirs. It would serve 12 million people across cities and farms in four states, and was initiated by then President Luiz Inacio Lula de Silva (who hails from the region it would serve).

Now, as Reuters reports, bureaucratic issues and contract problems have stalled the project so badly that even some finished parts will have to be rebuilt. The cost estimate has doubled to $3.4 billion dollars.

And as stadiums have sprouted up around the country for the upcoming World Cup, the São Francisco project's delays have become especially problematic.

Northeastern Brazil is experiencing its worst drought in half a century. Hundreds of thousands of cattle have died in the last three years as a result of the long dry spell. One farmer illustrated this, poignantly, by lining the heads of his dead cows along his property. And the problem, meteorologists say, is only going to get worse.

Politically, this means trouble for current Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and her Workers' Party, which historically performs well in the the impoverished Northeast. Former Rousseff ally Eduardo Campos (now governor of northeast state Pernambuco) is preparing to run against her for president this fall.

Perhaps not coincidentally, work on the water infrastructure project accelerated in 2014. According to Reuters, Rousseff recently implored officials overseeing construction to finish the first section before October's election. In the Pernambuco town of Cabrobó, 600 new workers joined the project last month.

Lula predicted the project would become the eighth wonder of the world. But locals remain skeptical that it will ever finish, though government officials predict it'll service some 12 million Brazilians by 2015.

One of the canals and the pumping station being built to divert water for use in four drought-plagued states, January 24, 2014. (REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino)
Farmer Antonio Alves da Rocha, 59, pulls a cart with water alongside one of the canals being built to divert water from the Sao Francisco river for use in four drought-plagued states, a project that is three years behind schedule and has doubled in cost from the original estimate of $3.4 billion, near the city of Sertania, Pernambuco state, January 26, 2014. (REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino)
Workers do minor repairs to one of the canals being built to divert water from the Sao Francisco river near the city of Cabrobo, Pernambuco state, January 24, 2014. (REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino)
A cow walks along one of the canals being built to divert water from the Sao Francisco river, near the city of Custodia, Pernambuco state, January 25, 2014. (REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino)
Farmer Ulysses Flor, 85, stands near the skulls of some of his nearly 50 cows that died due to the prolonged drought near the city of Forest, Pernambuco state, January 29, 2014. (REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino)
A general view of the pumping station at the head of one of the canals being built to divert water from the Sao Francisco river near the city of Cabrobo, Pernambuco state, January 24, 2014. (REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino)
A general view of the construction of a pumping station at the head of one of the canals being built to divert water from the Sao Francisco river, January 24, 2014. (REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino)
A general view of workers inside the Cuncas I tunnel, January 28, 2014. (REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino)
Workers monitor the drilling of the Cuncas II tunnel, January 28, 2014. (REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino) 
A worker is seen inside the Cuncas II tunnel that will link the canals being built to divert water from the Sao Francisco river, near the city of Mauriti, Ceara state, January 28, 2014. (REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino)

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