Community Water and Sanitation Practices in Undeveloped, Low-Income Neighborhoods in Brazil: The Case of Rio de Janeiro and Salvador

Special Report: Networks in Cities of the Global South
By Mauro Kleiman

Social and spatial inequalities in access to water supply and sanitation services are an important feature on the urbanization process in Brazil. Network infrastructures based on the most sophisticated available technologies, are well developed in rich areas, but poorly developed — or entirely lacking — in low-income neighbourhoods.
Based on a qualitative survey (observations and interviews) in two cities, this paper explores the response of low income communities to the situation thus created and seeks to assess the results of the government program implemented since 1995 to improve it. Populations of low income communities respond to the lack of infrastructures by inventing individual and/or collective means of access to basic services; these include various alternative forms of water collection and illegal collective connections to the water network (through informal micro-networks). The increasing awareness of the collective nature of water and the necessity of disposing of used water have thus led to the self construction of “alternative networks.”
On the other hand, “official” water supply and sanitation networks currently introduced in low income areas are based on the same technical norms (over-sizing and over-sophistication) as those in rich areas. The development of those infrastructures challenges the habits of low income communities, and the transition to new behaviours proves difficult. However, new infrastructures — once achieved — have deep implications on the daily life of the population: people’s privacy is increased, more time can be dedicated to activities other than water provision and disposal, and the connection to the formal network opens the way to a fuller integration of those communities to the official/legal city.

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