Brazil: New report evaluates how transparency surrounding the São Paulo water crisis has changed

ARTICLE 19 has released a report entitled “The Cantareira System and the Water Crisis in São Paulo, Lack of transparency: A persistent problem”, which analyses the information disclosed between 2014 and 2015 by the public agencies responsible for management of the main water reservoir of São Paulo. This is the second version of the study – the first was launched in 2014.

In 2014 and 2015, hundreds of thousands of people in the metropolitan region of São Paulo lived with daily cuts to the water supply. The main water reservoir, the Cantareira System, responsible for supplying about 50% of the metropolitan population, almost collapsed. At the time, the public agencies responsible for management the crisis were widely criticised, particularly because of the lack of transparency in how the agencies were working to mitigate the situation.

This year’s report shows that, although there has been some improvement since 2014, the situation is still critical, and a culture of secrecy remains.

Of the fourteen public agencies’ websites evaluated to measure their “active transparency”, or the information concerning the water crisis that was openly published on the agency websites, seven were rated below average.

To analyse “passive transparency” – which concerns to the answers the agencies gave to information requests – ARTICLE 19 made twenty-four information requests to eleven public agencies between January and February 2016. Of the requests sent, 37% were not answered. Of the responses received, only 73% were considered satisfactory.

For ARTICLE 19 Access to Information Officer Mariana Tamari, the prognosis is worrying. “We found that the São Paulo State Government released information in order to minimize the seriousness of the water crisis. This fact, together with the lack of transparency found and model of the water applied, create the possibility of a new water crisis in São Paulo in the future,” she stated.

Tamari explains that the points where there were improvements only happened because of societal pressure, and the work of State and Federal Prosecutions Service (known as the MP in Brazil). “The MP had a key role in pressuring the São Paulo State government to be more transparent in managing the water crisis. It was the MP who assured that the correct information on the level of the water in the Cantareira System was made available. They also held public hearings to produce evidence that a water rationing was going on, when the government was saying otherwise.”

To ARTICLE 19, transparency in public administration must always be the rule, but it is even more important in times of social crisis. In the case of the water crisis, transparency is crucial to ensure access to water, a human right which the Brazilian State has a duty to protect.

Read the full report in Portuguese here.

Read the Executive Summary in English here.