Mark Byrnes is a senior associate editor at CityLab who writes about design and architecture.
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.