CR 19:97-108 (2001)  -  doi:10.3354/cr019097

Making rain, making roads, making do: public and private adaptations to drought in Ceará, Northeast Brazil

Timothy J. Finan*, Donald R. Nelson

Bureau of Applied Research in Anthropology (BARA), University of Arizona, Anthropology Building Room 316, PO Box 210030, Tucson, Arizona 85721-0030, USA

ABSTRACT: The Northeast of Brazil is characterized by a semi-arid environment with highly variable rainfall and frequent drought. Its population, particularly rural inhabitants who practice rainfed agriculture, are especially vulnerable to climatic extremes that compromise fragile livelihood systems. Since the end of the 19th century, the government has assumed the responsibility for solving the drought problem through programs designed to reduce immediate impacts and permanently diminish the overall vulnerability of the population. This paper focuses on the central northeastern state of Ceará, where the history of drought has been particularly savage and the public policy response particularly ambitious. Based on 3 yr of research, it first documents the vulnerability of rural Ceará, then traces the history of public efforts to mitigate these climatic crises, with particular focus on the role of seasonal forecasting. At the same time, the paper uses field data to report household coping mechanisms of rural inhabitants to drought. The conclusions argue for the need to combine both public and private responses in effective drought planning.

KEY WORDS: Drought · Vulnerability · Seasonal forecasting

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