Brazil enjoys presenting itself as a pro-ecology country. It’s true that our energy matrix consists of cleaner sources than those of more developed countries, which is a point of national pride. However, sewage services remain a luxury in Latin America’s biggest country, being accessible to just 50% of our population – and 35 million Brazilians have no access to treated water supplies. Period. That puts Brazil behind far poorer countries, like Peru, Bolivia, or even Venezuela.
The map of water supply and public sanitation in Brazil reflects the country’s extreme inequality. Coverage of these services is highly concentrated in the most affluent areas:
And the gap tends to grow increasingly wider. In 2014, the country’s 20 top cities for sanitation coverage spend twice as much as the ten worst cities. Populations unable to rely on proper sanitation coverage and treated water supply are left exposed to diseases including dengue fever, Zika, cholera, or hepatitis. Likewise, these populations are vulnerable to soil contamination, mudslides, and floods.
The lack of this basic right also carries severe economic impacts. In 2012, around $560 million was spent on hours paid and not worked by employees who were absent due to stomach infections.
Brazil’s National Public Sanitation Plan
Ten years ago, Brazil launched a National Public Sanitation Plan to establish guidelines for sanitation policies. Its main goal is to provide 93 percent of Brazilian houses with access to a proper sewage system and a treated water supply by 2033. Though some progress has been made over the past decade, if the same pace of development is kept then the goal will be achieved only by 2050.
“In general, Brazil hasn’t advanced much. Ten years to provide these services to more than half of the population is not enough. We’re having a discussion that developed nations had in the 19th century. We can’t wait until 2050 for a better reality,” Édson Carlos, President of Instituto Trata Brasil, told the press a few months ago.
In September, Instituto Trata Brasil launched a study showing the upside of universalizing water and sewage treatment. Analyzing the situation across all Brazilian states, the study shows that the federal administration could save 537.4 billion BRL over 20 years just by implementing public sanitation services for all citizens. The gains that come from investing in public sanitation always outweigh the costs.
For the sake of comparison, 2018’s federal deficit will be 159 billion BRL.
It is imperative for Brazil to resolve issues with sanitation if it wants to reach its goal of becoming a leader among developed nations. Tackling the issue is not just a no-brainer from the humanitarian perspective – it would be a savvy business move, as well.