Safe water from the sky
Pernambuco State, located in the semiarid region of Northeast Brazil, is marked by low rainfall and extreme poverty. The majority of its inhabitants have no access to safe drinking water. In the dry season, women and children walk up to four hours to fetch poor-quality water for human consumption. Unclear water contributes to the high rates of diarrheal illness in the region, causing an estimated one-quarter of child deaths. Furthermore, the arduous task of obtaining water subtracts from the time that women can devote to taking care of the family, housework or a small business and children can spend doing homework and attending school.
In 2002, the Brazilian government established the Pernambuco 1 Million Cisterns Program (P1MC) to help families in the country’s semi-arid Northeast install cisterns for harvesting rainwater on the roofs of their homes. Such cisterns make whole families healthier and more productive by keeping water clean – thereby reducing water-borne illnesses – and sparing women and children the task of fetching water. Unfortunately, many families do not qualify to participate in the P1MC programme because their roofs do not meet the technical requirements for installing a cistern.
This project, known as “Agua para Vidas” in Portuguese, was designed to complement P1MC. It aimed to enable 400 poor rural families in Pernambuco State – 260 of them with the Swiss Re Foundation’s support – to sustainably improve their access to clean water and thus their quality of life by helping them qualify for P1MC support.
Over two years, the project:
- Assisted in adapting the roofs of the families’ homes to meet the technical conditions for participation in the P1MC program
- Fostered community alliances and promoted community development by strengthening awareness among leaders, women and youth of community-relevant topics including human rights and gender issues
- Trained youth to build water tanks, to repair roofs and – through instruction in public water policies and human and civil rights – to participate in the process of securing P1MC cisterns for every family in the community
- Educated the community about the importance of water resources and encouraged good practice in the handling and use of water for consumption and hygiene
- Trained the community to participate in councils in which women leaders play a role in decision-making
- Involved participating families in all stages of the project, including planning
Whilst the costs of cistern construction were fully covered by the project, families directly participated in repairing the roofs and installing the rainwater harvesting tanks. Each family also helped cover the cost of construction technical assistance, drill the area where the tanks will be built and support the builders during the entire (re)construction process.
More than 1 000 people in Pernambuco – that is, 260 families with an average of four members each – directly benefitted from the roof repairs and cistern construction. Each year hundreds more families benefitted from assistance provided by the 52 young people trained as part of the project.