Back to Page Authors: Leonardo Salvatore

Keywords: politics, drought, elite, popular narrative

Abstract: In February of 1877, precipitations failed to saturate the semi-arid sertão of the Brazilian Northeast, a region with a history of disastrous cyclical droughts. Though other droughts typically last for one season, this time rain did not fall for over two years. Shortly after the dry season began, farmers started losing their property as their thirsty livestock perished. Various diseases quickly spread and the drought drained water sources completely. It is estimated that 500,000 people died. During such alarming times, the government is expected to deploy physical and financial resources to attend the affected ones. The story of the Great Drought is unique in that the Brazilian government failed to act promptly and, once it finally diagnosed the disaster’s magnitude, did not face the crisis with adequate seriousness and determination. Despite its massive consequences, the Great Drought has received little attention: it rarely appears in academic sources. This research addresses the lacunae in the literature by describing the political inaction which exacerbated the drought. It tells the story of the drought through diverging narratives of prominent newspapers of the time and attempts to expound on the evident yet largely unspoken of inability of the Brazilian government to address the catastrophe. This article seeks to elucidate this forgotten episode of Brazilian history by analyzing government reports, public health reports, newspapers, and other new-found primary sources.