20% of the Brazilian population (about 37 million people)
lacks access to potable water, in rural areas the portion
rises to 90% without proper sanitation, including access to
clean drinking water. The
crisis reaches into the periphery of the cities. Basically, it is the poor who go thirsty.
and Human Rights
modern debate about water and human rights includes its
connections with various fields of knowledge beyond hydrology.
This issues has been reduced to ‘hydrological resources,’
the specialty of hydrologists and seen only in its
power-generating, food-producing, and sanitation dimensions.
Now, it has to be discussed in relation to biology,
environmentalism, society, leisure activities, tourism,
politics, and the economy – and in connection with human
rights. Essentially, the discussion about water must be
expanded from just its various uses to include its value and
of all, let’s take an abstraction: ‘water’ and
‘hydrological resources’ are inseparable concepts, but not
identical ones. Water is a natural resource, previous and
basic to all forms of life, the place where life began, part
of and essential to every living thing. Water, therefore, is
an irreplaceable and indispensable good.
study presented at the World Environmental Summit in
Johannesburg contained disturbing findings concerning the
relationship of water and health, agriculture, energy, and
biodiversity. Deforestation, reduction of biodiversity, soil
devastation, and pollution of waterways paint a frightening
picture of famine, thirst, disease, misery and death across
to the study, in the world today 1.2 billion people don’t
have access to clean drinking water – that is, about 20% of
humanity. Worse yet, almost 2.4 billion people lack basic sanitation,
which amounts to about 40% of the world population.
Those who suffer more are the poor, particularly
children. Two million children die every year of water-related
diseases. In the poorest countries, for every five children
born, one child dies before the age of five from lack of clean
water. Half of
the world’s hospital beds are filled with victims of
problem in Brazil is also serious. While
20% of the Brazilian population (about 37 million Brazilians)
lacks access to potable water,
rural areas the portion rises to 90% without proper
sanitation, including access to clean drinking water.
In these areas, the problem is concentrated in the semi-arid
region, which is the least urbanized, and where the lowest
sanitation standards can be found.
lack of clean drinking water also reaches into the periphery
of the cities. Essentially,
it is the poor who go thirsty.
This is why the establishment of a regulatory framework
for sanitation, which the Ministry of Cities is developing, is
so important. ‘Thirst’ in this context means a lack -
either in quantity, quality or regularity – of potable
water, to such a degree that it does not guarantee a person,
family or community the minimum amount needed to sustain
normal physiological functioning.
This amount has been calculated at two liters of water
concept we work with is ‘water shortage’, which means a
lack - either in quantity, quality or regularity – of
potable water, to such a degree that it does not meet the
everyday consumption and hygiene needs of a person, family, or
amount has been determined by the World Health Organization to
be forty liters of water per day.
When any one of these measurements – quality,
quantity, or regularity – fails, it amounts to a shortage,
but these days a shortage is actually only recognized when it
is the quantity of water which is lacking.
it is irreplaceable and indispensable, water amounts to an
inherent right. No
human being, no living thing, may be deprived of his/her/its
access to water without violating its very nature or even
putting its life in danger.
Still, entire populations are seeing one of their
fundamental rights trampled in a massive and systematic way.
recognition of water as a fundamental human right has been
rejected by governments, multilateral organizations, and
corporations that would like to turn it into a commodity. As
of today, the United States government has not signed the
International Agreement on the Human Right to Nourishment,
which establishes that the State is responsible for feeding
its people based on the three concepts: “protect, promote,
and provide”. It also implies that foodstuffs should not
obey the laws of the marketplace, but rather the logic of
many countries resist codifying water as a right in their
legal systems. They
accept water, just as food, as a need, not a right.
This way of thinking creates a rupture between natural
and legal rights.
- “A Million Cisterns” Campaign (P1MC)
campaign is an initiative of civil society organizations in
the semi-arid region of Brazil. They form a network with
approximately a thousand groups, including NGOs, unions, and
social movements. It envisions the construction of a million
cisterns to capture rainwater for human consumption. The
project can benefit six million people. The campaign extends
throughout the semi-arid region of Brazil, which includes
parts of eleven states: Minas Gerais, Espírito Santo, Bahia,
Sergipe, Alagoas, Pernambuco, Paraíba, Rio Grande do Norte,
Ceará, Piauí and Maranhão.
The semi-arid has an area of 867,999.3 sq km, with
about 18,466,637 people - 9,835,806 in urban areas and
8,630,691 in rural areas. It is the most populous semi-arid
region on Earth.
is precisely this rural population that makes up the “map of
thirst” in Brazil, and suffers the impacts of water
the water for most of these people is supplied by a
‘barreiro’ system: that
is, a hole dug into the ground that stores rainwater collected
over the rainy season to be used during the dry months. This
primitive water storage system, while providing enough to
satisfy a family’s basic needs, does not supply clean water
for drinking. Often what is consumed in rural areas is a
mixture of water and dirt that can cause diseases.
Cisterns are built with simple technology. They are storage
reservoirs built next to houses, half dug into the ground,
that collect water run-off from the roof. An entire course in
water resource management is given to the recipient families,
so they learn to manage their cooking and drinking water. The
cisterns are sealed against insects and sunlight. Without
light, algae don’t grow, and the water is kept clean for
impact on the health, particularly among the elderly and
children, is immediate. It
also lightens the workload of women, so often bent double from
the debilitating effort to find and transport water.
Just as immediately, a certain freedom from political
influence takes effect, as water shortages are often used as a
tool for social control. The goal of the project is to reach a
million families in five years.
– Public Sanitation
are serious problems related to public sanitation in Brazil.
While 20% of our population lacks access to clean drinking
water, 50% lack
proper sewer systems, and 80% of the sewage is dumped directly
into various bodies of water.
Lack of sanitation contributes overwhlemingly to the
pollution of 70% of Brazil’s rivers.
the Lula administration took office and created the Ministry
of Cities, a page was turned in the management of sanitation
in Brazil. A
new regulatory framework is being set up that, if approved and
implemented, will open a new chapter for public sanitation.
The draft bill defines ‘public sanitation as a collective
effort with the objective of improving public health,
including the water supply; the collection, treatment, and
disposition of sewage and solid and gaseous waste, along with
all other urban clean-up services; the management of urban
rainwater; environmental control of diseases and infestations
in reservoirs, and the management of land occupation and use
in such a way as to maximize the fostering of, and improvement
in urban and rural living standards’.
bill is based on the principles of universality, and
establishes that sanitation as an obligation of the State.
It foresees that US$170 billion will be needed over
twenty years to resolve these issues.
– Report on Rural Land and Water Rights
importance of this report lies in its aim to create a culture
of the right to water in Brazilian society, which, as in the
rest of the world, experiences opposition from businesses,
corporations, and local governments. This new perspective on
water can become an important tool to protect human rights.
is hope for the protection of water rights in Brazil; hope
that the population will have access to the water it requires
– in quality, quantity, and regularity – for its everyday
CNBB: “Água, Fonte de Vida”. Basic
Text, Brotherhood Campaign 2004. Ed. Salesiana. S. Paulo.
Ministry of Cities: “Diretrizes para os Serviços Púbicos
de Saneamento Básico e a Política Nacional de Saneamento
Ambiental – PNSA. (Anteprojeto
de Lei). 2004. Ministry of Cities website.
Flávio Valente: “Relatório do Direito à Terra e Água
directly from the reporter.
Roberto Malvezzi: “La industria de la seca e sus antídotos”.
“Derecho a la alimentación em el Brasil de Lula”
(Cadernos do Ceam). Universidade de Brasília. 2004.
Idem: “Direito à Água como Alimento”. Available online
from the author.
Malvezzi (Gogó) is a member of the National Coordinating
Committee of the CPT (Comissão Pastoral da Terra,
Pastoral Land Commission).
Basic text of Campanha da Fraternidade, citing data from
the Panamerican Health Organization (Opas).
Cap 2, Art. 2,I: PNASA (National Policy on Public
Sanitation, Draft Bill). Ministry of Cities.