Zika Epidemic Offers Sanitation a Chance in Brazil
The severe water crisis that affected the southern state of São Paulo and other regions of Brazil last year fomented the habit of storing water in pots and pans and other open containers, which became mosquito breeding grounds.
This was one of the causes of the worst dengue epidemics in São Paulo: 649,000 notified cases last year and 454 deaths.
“The water crisis, plus the microcephaly and the Fraternity Campaign are a happy – and unhappy – coincidence that offers an opportunity to address the serious problems of basic sanitation,” said the president of Trata Brazil.
Sanitation is the focus of the Ecumenical Fraternity Campaign that Brazil’s national bishops’ conference holds every year, and which this year brought together other Christian churches to raise awareness and generate public debate about the issue under the theme “Our common home, our responsibility”.
In Brazil, where nearly 85 percent of the population is urban, sanitation is expanding, but slowly, especially in terms of sewage and waste treatment systems.
In 2014, 56.7 percent of the population had sewerage, just barely up from 56.3 percent the year before.
At this rate, the official goal of universal sewerage will not be reached by 2033, as planned, or even by 2050, according to a study by the National Confederation of Industry. Besides too little spending on sanitation, red tape stands in the way of local initiatives by hindering the release of credit, representatives of businesses in the sector explain.
The situation for waste treatment is even worse, with only 39 percent coverage. Most of it continues to be dumped untreated into urban rivers, lakes and the ocean.
“It is necessary to redesign the sector, address the serious problems in a structural manner, seek political accords, and mobilise society to demand that a priority be put on sanitation,” said Dante Ragazzi Pauli, president of theBrazilian Association of Sanitary and Environmental Engineering (ABES).
“The experts are inefficient in terms of communicating with the population, which remains poorly informed about the importance of a sewage system,” he commented to IPS, stressing that water and sanitation must be kept high up on the agenda permanently, and not just at times of water shortages or epidemics.
ABES is working towards that end, organising meetings and campaigns, such as the current one, “More sanitation, less Zika”, which will include a special Mar. 3 workshop in São Paulo.
It is also necessary to take into account “the chaotic situation” of state and municipal sanitation companies, the incapacity of city governments to carry out projects, and the current economic crisis, “an additional challenge,” he said.
Otherwise, he argued, the government will continue to set “impossible targets” such as eradicating all open-air dumps by 2014, a goal set by a 2010 law.
An initiative that has improved the outlook, at least in the rural areas of Northeast Brazil, the poorest part of the country, is the One Million Water Tanks Programme (P1MC) implemented by the Articulação no Semi-Árido Brasileiro (ASA), a network of over 3,000 social organisations focused on Brazil’s semiarid region.
Because the tanks, which hold up to 16,000 litres of rainwater for drinking and cooking, are closed, they do not provide breeding grounds for mosquitoes. The Northeast is the region hit hardest by the Zika virus and the spike in the number of cases of microcephaly in newborns.
Against this backdrop, ASA has stepped up the training courses it has given so far to nearly 580,000 families, to improve water management and prevent the spread of the Aedes aegypti mosquito.
Because the rainfall returned after four years of drought in the semiarid Northeast, the number of mosquitoes and the incidence of dengue fever increased, “especially in the most populated areas,” said Rafael Neves, the head of the P1MC.
But previous data is not available, and studies on rural health are needed to compare and assess the efficacy of the water tanks in the prevention of the Aedes aegypti mosquito and the diseases it transmits, Neves told IPS.
Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes
Pictures for this story
This story includes downloadable print-quality images — Copyright IPS, to be used exclusively with this story.
- Sewage runs down one of the main streets of Altamira, a city in the Amazon rainforest in northern Brazil. Poor sanitation offers a paradise for the Aedes aegypti mosquito, the carrier of dengue fever and the Chikungunya and Zika viruses. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS
- Abel Manto stands next to the closed water tanks built to collect rainwater and irrigate his vegetable gardens in the Northeastern Brazilian state of Bahia. The green on this farmer and inventor’s land stands in sharp contrast with the aridity of the region, while the lids on his tanks keep mosquitoes from breeding in the water. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS