By Program Coordinator Igor Vieira

Coastal communities around the world showcase multiple ways of relating to water resources. Understanding and participating in these dynamics is a challenge on many fronts, as they involve housing, development activities, population growth, and how these relate to the ocean, estuarine environments, and urban rivers. It is a multifaceted challenge that needs to be addressed with due complexity. In the last blog we discussed how there shouldn’t be just one approach to think about water treatment in coastal communities, and now, let’s understand more about the reality in other regions that Waterlution is active in. 

In countries like Brazil, of continental proportions, thinking about access to treated water is a question that comes after a crucial primary question: “Will the water reach these communities?” In many places the overriding issue is to understand the possibilities of access before even thinking about quality. 

The climate crisis has proven to be a hugely important factor in questioning this scenario and has reaffirmed the urgency of local action, especially recently with the intensification of the COVID-19 pandemic. More people have found themselves with the challenge of accessing water for basic daily functions that will keep them secure in their dwellings. For many coastal communities in Brazil, access to water is a challenge, like in Morro do Preventório, one of the WIL Brazil 2021 territories, which in some parts, can go up to 15 days without water. This frequency of supply includes only the parts of the community that have access to the water network. In this territory, there are even more complex realities than this one presented.  

Thinking about coastal communities is to understand the consequences associated with the climate crisis as the obvious scenario of rising sea levels, but there is a range of urban infrastructure issues in coastal areas that are becoming evident in recent times: increased landslides, intensified salinization of aquifers and surface waters. 

Understanding the local nuances of these challenges is actually a way to deepen the conversation about the larger issues around the topic in different parts. With this in mind, and focusing on the Climate Adaptation response, WIL Brazil 2021 is taking a territorial approach to immerse itself in these local challenges that connect with an optic that repeats itself in other scenarios in Brazil. Four of the five program territories are in coastal communities and present specific challenges that reflect the plurality and seriousness of the issue.

Planning and management has an influence on the scenarios that are being modified with the occurrence of more extreme events. Decisions about territories like the Metropolitan Region of Maceió in the north eastern state of Alagoas, demand a strategic planning vision that prioritizes investment in adaptation, reducing risks and associated impacts such as flooding, inundation, and erosion. In parallel to this, it is essential to develop ways to ensure access to water and sanitation services. 

The need to associate factors and solutions makes it clear that the climate crisis and the water crises are one. This example takes us to the territory of Salvador, specifically to the Paraguaçu River basin, which runs through different regions of the state and is responsible for 60% of the water collected for human supply in the Metropolitan Region of Salvador. The last years have been of drought in the region and there is a concern about the flow of water availability for supply in the near future.

But the analysis is not only about the availability of access; in the territory of the Foz do Rio Doce, the quality and availability of water is the biggest challenge since the environmental tragedy of the bursting of a mining company’s tailings dam affected the region. Since then, entire communities have sought alternatives to access water to ensure their survival and local development through their activities.

When we think of local action to combat the climate crisis through water and sanitation projects, treatment can be a secondary issue as some of WIL Brazil’s focus territories present. In response, it is necessary to empower more communities in the process of adaptation to the climate crisis, thus increasing their resilience. With this, water security will become a possibility for many people.

This is how we see the need for a change of strategy to deal with these issues in Brazil. Having these territories as a reference and also as a source of solutions, because this is how the innovation process is happening in practice. These challenges are the beginning of many ramifications that we are unraveling along the way, which still has much to be seen and built.

A special thanks to our territorial partners from coastal areas Morro do Preventório, Salvador, Região Metropolitana de Maceió e Foz do Rio Doce who have opened their initiatives, organizations, and entire communities so that we can continue fostering a culture of water care.

Igor Vieira (he/him) Environmental Engineer, postgraduate degree in Oceanography and master’s degree in Environmental Engineering. Water quality/management researcher. Resides surrounded by Water in Recife, northeast Brazil. Represented Brazil at the UNFCC COP 24 and 25. Interested in water and climate advocacy.