President of the World Water Council since 2012, professor Benedito Braga represents the organization that will carry out the 8th World Water Forum, in Brasília, between March 18 and 23. It is the first time the event is to take place in a country of the Southern hemisphere.
Full professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the Polytechnical School of the University of São Paulo, he has a PhD in Water Resources from Stanford University, in the United States. Braga says there is no magical solution for water issues and advocates drinking water cannot be free, since taking good quality water to the populations entails some costs.
“Water cannot be free because when water is in nature and we take it, we must treat it so it can be served to the population. In nature, even in the cleanest river, that water is not in condition of being safely served to the population. So, there is a need to invest in works and services. These actions cost money”, he said.
World Water Council has been responsible for monitoring the water question all over the world for over 30 years and played a key role when the United Nations recognized water as a fundamental human right.
Below is Braga's interview to Agência Brasil.
Agência Brasil: What is to be expected from the forum?
Benedito Braga: If we reach our goal, of bringing the technical and scientific community closer to the decision-making community, the political class, we will have gone a great step further. In the end, this is what we have been working for over a number of years, getting ready to bring ministers, mayors, governors, heads of State to debate together, in close cooperation with the technicians, who are the ones who have the solutions for the problems. From that point, [we want to] motivate the political class to [understand] the importance of water, its conservation, its rational use, [also] the importance of having a budget for water works, so that our rivers are not polluted.
Agência Brasil: How is it possible to justify investments in a product such as water, since people normally expect it to be free?
Benedito Braga: Water cannot be free because when water is in nature and we take it, we must treat it so it can be served to the population. In nature, even in the cleanest river, that water is not in condition of being safely served to the population. So, there is a need to invest in works and services. These actions cost money and must be paid for. If people who use these services do not pay a fee, someone else is going to have to pay, that is, the taxpayer in general. That means that there are only two alternatives, pay fees or taxes. So it better be paid through a fee, because in this case the ones who are consuming pay for the right to have good quality water in their taps.
Agência Brasil: How about extremely poor communities, unable to afford a fee?
Benedito Braga: Yes, they have the right to water. And what we must do is create a pricing structure in which the poorer pay less and those who have a better situation pay more, in such a way that the sum allows paying the costs entailed in providing that water, in safe drinking conditions. Right now, in São Paulo state, for example, Sabesp [state-run water company] already has a system like that, with a subsidized fee for the low-income population.
Translated by Mariana Branco