With over 17 million cases, and close to 500,000 deaths, Brazil has suffered the world’s third worst COVID-19 outbreak outside the United States and India and its second-deadliest. The outbreak has been fuelled by more transmissible variants of the virus and a lack of coordinated national measures, with the country’s congress opening an inquiry into the government’s handling of the pandemic.
In addition to the use of masks, regular hand washing has become a key measure in the fight against the virus, requiring access to clean water. Whilst many of us take this for granted a multitude of low income communities within Brazil do not have access to water in their homes. Alongside housing, water access is a fundamental right, but both are not yet guaranteed in many areas of the country, including the municipality of São Paulo.
The Territorial Justice Laboratory of the Federal University of ABC, in partnership with the Union of Housing Movements, Central of Popular Movements, University of Michigan, and the Gaspar Garcia Center for Human Rights undertook a research project to better understand water access issues and who is most affected by them.
The general objective of the project was to understand and give visibility to the problems of access and lack of water in low-income communities, in different regions of São Paulo, and how these problems can aggravate the health risks experienced by people, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The research was carried out in 2 stages with the first stage involving a questionnaire on water access which was distributed to leaders and residents of the communities. The results of this stage were visualized on a map in order to better understand the spatial distribution of issues with water access.
Layers on the map include the results of the questionnaire itself along with data sets including the watershed protection area, rivers and water reservoirs, and zoning.
The research found that within areas where there is no urbanization or public water supply networks, residents adopt different solutions, such as alternative connections and water storage in tanks and barrels. Even within more urbanized areas, where public networks do exist, houses that do not have a water tank can be left without public water service for many hours at night or day (due to the problem of network intermittency or falls in pressure).
Issues that arise due to the lack of access to water include the financial difficulties of families to pay the tariff, the need to use water “borrowed from neighbors or relatives”, and the need to buy water for drinking or cooking. Many of these problems were detailed in stories shared by the community.
Without water, you cannot make food, without food you have low immunity; you can’t get clean, if you can’t get clean anywhere you can get contaminated; so you can contaminate yourself with the virus and then pass it on to someone else
Resident of the Fazendinha Community in São Paulo
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