Water, Environment and Business for Development

The fascinating social aspects of water scarcity: Sõa Paulo

 In Blog (en), Uncategorized

At the recent Water Week Latin America in Chile (April 2015), WE&B had the opportunity to interview Mrs Monica Porto.

At the recent Water Week Latin America in Chile (April 2015), WE&B had the opportunity to interview Mrs Monica Porto the Deputy Secretary for Water and Sanitation in Sõa Paulo, Brazil. As had been widely publicised, Sõa Paulo went through one of the worst droughts since 1930 with the water levels in the Cantareira system of reservoirs—which normally supplies nearly half of the area’s 20,000,000 people dropping to just 5% of total capacity in 2014, see graph below (The Economist 2015). This means that recent rainfall in Sõa Paulo has made very little difference to the grave problem that one of the largest cities in the world faced and is currently facing.

Monica stated that the Sõa Paulo government realised that they had to drastically reduce consumption, because before the drought the city used 200l per person per day. However, through the introduction of social, man management aspects they were able to reduce this consumption to 150l per person per day. The initiatives that the Sõa Paulo government bought in to curb the scarcity of water facing the city as described below, however many believe that these initiatives that came too late, as they waited for the 2014 election results (BBC 2014). Monica mentioned that one of the initiatives that they brought in was to give customers a discount on their water bill. If a consumer was able to reduce more than 20% of its average consumption, it would gain a 30% reduction in its water bill.

According to Monica, this initiative has been extremely successful with more than 80% of the population of Sõa Paulo, currently receiving some form of discount on their water bill (there are 4 incentive discount levels). They were therefore able to reduce the water production from 70m3/sec to 50m3/sec. If a costumer did not reduce its water consumption but in fact raised that consumption, that customer received a fine. However, why is it that only 80% of the population reduced their consumption when faced with such an intense drought? The reason Monica gave was quite interesting. She noted that the large majority of that 20% lives in large apartment blocks that has only one water meter for the entire block. She therefore noted that it was incredibly difficult to incentivise these people because if they saw their neighbour not reducing their consumption they were unable to see the benefit for themselves to reduce their consumption, or if in fact they lived alone in the flat but their next door neighbour had ten people living in the flat, then again they would have little incentive to reduce their own consumption as the entire block shared the one water meter, which means that everyone in the apartment block paid the same amount for water. She noted that they could not incentivise these people because the local government were unable to make the people in these apartment blocks see the economic benefit of reducing their water consumption.

Finally Monica mentioned that the local water company has been in terrible financial difficulty due to these initiatives as they have not been able to cover their costs as they were effectively receiving up to 30% less revenue from the water bill saving scheme. This example Monica Porto has demonstrated from Sõa Paulo shows that the effects of water scarcity, ever more present in expanding urban areas and ever more affected by climate change effects can be reduced through social management aspects.

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