Freedom of expression and information are key in the battle to fight poverty and improve people’s lives. The availability and accessibility of information promotes transparency, ensures better governance and reduces inefficiency and corruption. Information gives people the opportunity to improve their own lives, participate in the decision making process that affect them, and hold their leaders to account.
People in rural Brazil are using the Access to Information Law to help them fight for better access to, and a better quality of, water. Through the use of this law, families in Brazil’s semi-arid region can now find out about and make the most of the support that is currently available to them. They are also campaigning for better services where they are needed.
2012 and 2013 were the driest years on record in Brazil for three decades. The drought has been most severe in Brazil’s semi-arid region, where some communities have not seen rain in over a year. Official figures (IBGE 2007) show that 67% of rural families living in this semi-arid region do not have access to a general system of water distribution; 43% use wells and springs; and 24% access water in other ways, including making daily journeys to collect water from sources that frequently are not fit for human consumption.
In 2011 Brazil committed to ensuring better access to water across the country. The government established the Water for All Programme, which aims to provide thousands of Brazilians with clean drinking water. Yet people still struggle to access this water. For example, in the state of Pernambuco in northeast Brazil, water supplies are limited and there are only a small number of water trucks distributing clean water to families who are struggling to cope with drought. Finding about when and where deliveries are made can make all the difference to a family struggling with the drought.
Linking access to information to water
Information is crucial in order to make sure that the communities most affected by drought get the help they need.
ARTICLE 19 worked with local communities in Pernambuco to train them to use the Access to Information Law in order to:
- Obtain information about the specific water programmes in the state
- Find out how much money has been allocated to providing water and how it is being spent, including the number of water trucks in operation
- Find out the results of water quality tests in the area.
Alaíde Martins (52) is a farmer who lives in Sítio Solto, Triunfo – a rural part of Pernambuco. She has two grown children and works with her husband producing fruit pulps. Alaíde and her husband got involved in ARTICLE 19’s training workshop after speaking with a local community centre:
“We have an agroforestry area where my husband and I work with organic products. Agriculture is very painful now. A lot has died because of the drought.”
“The training involved a number of issues, about rights and duties with respect to sources of water. If we do not inform ourselves and hold the authorities to account, it becomes a forgotten matter.”
Alaíde says that the training showed her how to access essential information that she would not normally know how to get hold of. In particular she was pleased to find out about the delivery of water by tanker trucks during drought periods and the results from water quality tests in the area.
“I learned about the care we need to have with the water, about our duty to find out where it comes from. When a water truck arrives, we do not know where its water comes from, and whether it is water that comes for human consumption, or if it comes from a dam.”
Alaíde says that a lack of information about the source of the water has been one of the biggest problems facing her community.
“It is through the mouth that people get sick. If you consume unclean water, it can be harmful. Even for animals. What frightens people here in the Northeast is that the drought killed a lot of cattle. People do not usually bury the animal, but place it in an open grave. When the rain comes, the water washes the remains of the animals into creeks, dams and rivers such as the Pajeú. This can contaminate the water. Some dams are not good [water sources] for that reason.”
By learning to access information about the water quality tests and delivery locations, local families are getting the help they need to survive the drought. More importantly, they are learning to speak up and ask questions of those in positions of authority.
“My husband is very shy. I was like that too but I overcame my shyness [through the training]. Now, I talk and participate a lot.”