Analyzing Water Access in Brazil during the COVID-19 Pandemic


Hand washing is key in the fight against COVID-19 but in Brazil water access can be an issue. Discover how Location Intelligence can be used to analyze the impact.

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Analyzing Water Access in Brazil during the COVID-19 Pandemic

With over 17 million cases  and close to 500 000 deaths  Brazil has suffered the world's third worst COVID-19 outbreak outside the United States and India and its second-deadliest. The outbreak has been fuelled by more transmissible variants of the virus and a lack of coordinated national measures  with the country’s congress opening an inquiry into the government's handling of the pandemic.

In addition to the use of masks  regular hand washing has become a key measure in the fight against the virus  requiring access to clean water. Whilst many of us take this for granted a multitude of low income communities within Brazil do not have access to water in their homes. Alongside housing  water access is a fundamental right  but both are not yet guaranteed in many areas of the country  including the municipality of São Paulo.

Photograph of water being decanted into a cup from a barrel

The Territorial Justice Laboratory of the Federal University of ABC  in partnership with the Union of Housing Movements  Central of Popular Movements  University of Michigan  and the Gaspar Garcia Center for Human Rights undertook a research project to better understand water access issues and who is most affected by them.

As one of our grantees  the team has been able to use our platform to provide additional insight into the findings of their research  part of which is featured within this post.

Visualizing Water Access Issues

The general objective of the project was to understand and give visibility to the problems of access and lack of water in low-income communities  in different regions of São Paulo  and how these problems can aggravate the health risks experienced by people  especially during the  COVID-19 pandemic.

The research was carried out in 2 stages with the first stage involving a questionnaire on water access which was distributed to leaders and residents of the communities. The results of this stage were visualized on a map in order to better understand the spatial distribution of issues with water access.

Layers on the map include the results of the questionnaire itself along with data sets including the watershed protection area  rivers and water reservoirs  and zoning.

The research found that within areas where there is no urbanization or public water supply networks  residents adopt different solutions  such as alternative connections and water storage in tanks and barrels. Even within more urbanized areas  where public networks do exist  houses that do not have a water tank can be left without public water service for many hours at night or day (due to the problem of network intermittency or falls in pressure).

Issues that arise due to the lack of access to water include the financial difficulties of families to pay the tariff  the need to use water “borrowed from neighbors or relatives”  and the need to buy water for drinking or cooking. Many of these problems were detailed in stories shared by the community.

   {% include icons/icon-quotes.svg %}    Without water  you cannot make food  without food you have low immunity; you can’t get clean  if you can’t get clean anywhere you can get contaminated; so you can contaminate yourself with the virus and then pass it on to someone else
       Resident of the Fazendinha Community in São Paulo    

A summary of the research can be found on the Água e Moradia website (in English and Portuguese) with the full publication ‘Lack of Water & Poor Housing’ available in Portuguese.

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