Full sanitation coverage in Brazil would spare $373 million a year

Lack of funding makes it difficult to provide full access to services

Published in 10/08/2018 - 13:47 By Bruno Bocchini and Camila Boehm - São Paulo

Taking Brazil’s sanitation coverage to a hundred percent would lead to the sparing of some $373 million in health care to treat diseases stemming from the lack of sewage collection and quality water supplies. The figure was unveiled at the 7th National Water Meeting, in São Paulo city.

According to the survey, a mere 1.6 thousand of Brazil’s 5,570 municipalities have at least one sewage treatment station. Some 100 million people have no access to sewage collection and over 35 million with no drinking water.

The sector is reported to have to invest a yearly average of $4 billion in water supplies and sewage treatment in the next 20 years in order to meet the full coverage target for sanitation in 2033, a deadline set by the National Sanitation Plan (PNSB).

“Since 2013, investments in water and sewage in Brazil have not added up to the sufficient amount estimated under the plan to reach the target. From 2014 to 2016, the investment in the sector was lowered some nine percent a year. If the situation continues as it is, Brazilians are not likely to have their access to water and sewage services guaranteed,” said Alexandre Lopes, head of the National Union of Privace Concessionaires for Public Water and Sewage Services, Sindcon.

New law

In effect since June, a preliminary injunction updating the guidelines for sanitation is still sparking controversy among representatives from private sanitation companies, the government, and organizations linked to state-controlled firms in the sector.

One of the fears shared by state-run companies is that the new regulation may lead companies to cover the most profitable cities only, and neglect poorer ones far from major urban centers.

Roberto Tavares, president of the Association of State Sanitation Companies (Aesbe), noted that he does not oppose the increased participation of the private enterprise, but argued that this should be done in an orderly fashion, in partnership with publicly controlled firms.

“We very much support the entry of the private enterprise, but it must be based on an economy of scale, preferably in collaboration with state companies. We have skills that the private enterprise would take more time [to acquire], for instance. We have the ability to negotiate with mayors and city councilors,” Tavares said.

Private enterprise

Martha Seillier, one of the authors of the injunction and an adviser linked to the president’s chief of staff, said that the current law does not aim to privatize sanitation or deprive city officials of their authority, but rather to preserve the strict regulations of Brazil’s National Water Agency (ANA).

In her view, the law currently in effect is the acknowledgment that bringing sanitation to the whole of Brazil is made all the more difficult without the support and the contribution of the private enterprise. “There’s more than enough room for the private enterprise to come to Brazil, especially in sanitation, and help the country’s services reach full coverage,” she declared.

Translation: Fabrício Ferreira -  Edition: Graça Adjuto / Nira Foster

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