The Right to Know: Rural communities, drought and water in Brazil

The Right to Know: Rural communities, drought and water in Brazil - Transparency

Children drive a donkey loaded with Babassu nuts along a dirt road in Maranhao State. The Babassu palm, in the background, native to this northeastern corner of Brazil, is an important part of the local culture and economy - more than 60 products come from it including oil used for cooking and cosmetics as well as the nutshell that is used as cooking fuel.


ARTICLE 19 has been working with people in rural Brazil to help them fight for better access to and a better quality of water. By training local communities to use Brazil’s Access to Information Law, we are encouraging families in Brazil’s dry zone to find out about and make the most of the support that is currently available to them and to campaign for better services where they are needed.

The situation:

2012 and 2013 have been the driest years on record in Brazil for 3 decades. The drought has been most severe in Brazil’s semi-arid region.

Official figures (IBGE 2007) show that 67% of rural families living in this dry zone 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 not fit for human consumption.

In 2011 Brazil committed to ensure 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.

Sometimes local communities are not aware of what help is available. Sometimes government policies to not provide adequate help to the people they are intended to benefit.

Our aim:

Information is crucial in order to make sure that the communities most affected by drought get the help they need. We are helping communities find this information. People who struggle to access to clean water need to be involved in forming water policies. Greater participation can only happen when communities are better informed.

Even in rural communities that are covered by official water programmes local people have problems accessing water. For example, in the state of Pernambuco in north east 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 are where deliveries are made is crucial.

What we’re doing:

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 about 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.

In some of the areas visited by the project, the community has been leaving without rain for more than a year.

Aladie Martins:

Alaíde Martins (52) is a farmer who lives in Sítio Solto, Triunfo – a rural part of Pernambuco. She has 2 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 we work with organic products, my husband and I… Agriculture is very painful now. A lot has died because of the drought… My husband is very shy, I was like that too but I overcame shyness, I talk a lot and I participate a lot now”

Alaíde says that the training showed her how to access to information they she would not normally know how to get hold of. In particular 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, whether it is water that comes for human consumption, if it comes from a dam. When a water truck arrives, we do not know where its water comes from.”

Alaíde says that a lack of information is one of the biggest problems her community is facing when it comes to water.

“The training involved a number of issues, about rights and duties with respect to sources of water. It concerns several sorts of information we might not be aware of… If we do not inform ourselves and hold the authorities to account, it becomes a forgotten matter.”

“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 have the custom to bury the animal, they usually place the animal in a certain place, like an open grave. When the rain comes, the water takes the remains of the animal to creeks, dams and rivers such as the Pajeú. This can contaminate the water. Some dams are not good for that reason.”