In Brazil, coronavirus sheds light on water problems

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Regular hand washing is one of the best preventions against the coronavirus, but in Brazil, more than 35 million people do not have access to drinking water.

Almost half of the 212 million Brazilians are deprived of sewerage and their wastewater flows into the streets, into rivers or into the sea.

These serious water treatment problems, which are very harmful to the health of the population and to the environment, have plagued the lives of the inhabitants of the largest country in Latin America for decades.

Brazil’s goal is to resolve them by 2033, through a controversial law enacted by President Jair Bolsonaro last month, paving the way for the privatization of these services.

Only 15 kilometers from the Presidential Palace of Planalto, in Brasilia, most of the 16,000 inhabitants of the favela Santa Luzia obtain their water supply illegally, with makeshift connections on the public network.

“More than ever, at this moment, water is life,” Poliana Feitosa, 32, told AFP, showing the tank installed near the door of her modest cinder-block house with a zinc roof .

Smelly cesspools

The poorest Brazilians are more affected by the pandemic in this country which has already counted nearly 3 million cases of Covid-19 and nearly 100,000 deaths.

“How do you want us to do it?” We would like to live with dignity, benefit from basic services and pay for them, ”adds Mme Feitosa.

Despite the difficulties, she says she is privileged compared to these neighbors because the pipe connected by her husband to the public network allows her to have a correct flow.

But many other favela residents have to get their supplies from artisanal wells that collect rainwater.

In Santa Luzia, there is no sewerage either: wastewater is often discharged into the open and the dirt roads are littered with smelly sewage sewers.

“Wastewater is at risk of mixing with clean water sources and can spread viral particles,” explains José David Urbaez, infectious disease specialist at Asa Norte Hospital in Brasilia.

The Trata Brasil Institute, an association that fights for better access to water treatment, recalls that certain wealthy neighborhoods, like Barra da Tijuca in Rio de Janeiro, or Morumbi in Sao Paulo, are also deprived of everything. sewer.

“The only difference is that people in these neighborhoods do not see where their wastewater is flowing,” Edison Carlos, president of Trata Brasil, told AFP.

“Often, opulent buildings have a septic tank connected to lakes or rivers by large pipes. To the locals it looks like everything is fine, but it is very bad for the environment. It’s water pollution 24 hours a day, ”he adds.

Juicy market

For Edison Carlos, the “historic” problem of water treatment is due to the lack of investment by public authorities, a problem aggravated by corruption and mismanagement.

“In Brazil, 38% of drinking water is lost before it reaches people, due to leaks in disused pipes, or any other type of deteriorated material,” he reveals.

The new law on water treatment plans to provide drinking water to 99% of Brazilians and sewage to 90% of homes. To do this, the government estimates that it will be necessary to invest no less than 700 billion reais (about 110 billion euros).

Previously existing rules only allowed public-private partnerships for water treatment, with limited investment due to a cap on public spending.

But with the new law, companies will be able to fully participate in this juicy market.

The text is far from unanimous, its detractors fearing to entrust to the private hands an essential service for the population.

In the midst of a pandemic, this subject should feed into the debates of the municipal elections in November in Brazil.

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