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Brazilian city of Manaus expands access to sanitation for low-income families with help from Spain

Low-income communities in the Brazilian city of Manaus will gain access to modern sanitation services thanks to a project that will use an innovative approach to identify families that need subsidies to link their homes to the sewage system.

The project, financed with a $5 million grant from the Spanish Cooperation Fund for Water and Sanitation in Latin America and the Caribbean (Spanish Fund), will complement two earlier programs underwritten by the Inter-American Development Bank. These programs, known as PROSAMIN I and II, financed investments in housing, basic services and environmental restoration to improve living conditions of poor population living in flood-prone areas of Manaus, capital of the state of Amazonas.

A key component of these earlier programs was the construction of a sewerage system to remove the wastewater being discharged into the city’s igarapés (streams that drain into rivers and wetlands). Like many similar programs, PROSAMIN laid the network of pipes right up to the sidewalks where individual homes were to be connected, but did not include resources to finance the in-house sewage collection structures and connections to the sewer line. In order to ensure that the improvements would be financially sustainable, the residents of each house were expected to pay for these structures and connections, along with a permanent “sewage tariff” that is added to their water bill.

Although a majority of the families who benefitted from PROSAMIN investments have the means to pay for their home’s connection to the sewage network, some of the poorest did not.

This threatened to undermine the effectiveness and impact of the program’s sanitation investments, because waste from homes not connected to the network continues to contaminate local waterways.

One solution—providing subsidies to cover the cost of connection and a lower ongoing sanitation fee—also entailed a risk: families with limited but sufficient resources might decline to pay their part in the hopes of getting the service for free.

To overcome this problem, officials at PROSAMIN and the Manaus municipal government worked with the IDB and the Spanish Fund to develop a two-pronged strategy. First, in order to identify families who truly deserve a subsidy, they will use income eligibility criteria for government assistance programs operated by federal, state, and/or municipal authorities. Since these programs already have rigorous systems for preventing fraud, PROSAMIN will be able to accurately determine how to use the sanitation subsidies that will initially be covered by the Spanish Fund grant.

Second, PROSAMIN will develop a specific communication program to raise awareness of the health benefits of receiving sanitation and sewage services, and to encourage families to voluntarily pay the sanitation surcharge in their water bill.

“Through this experience we’ve learned that people’s unwillingness to connect to a sewerage system is not a rare phenomenon, and that it might need special attention if sanitation objectives are to be fully achieved”, said Fernando Bretas, the IDB team leader for the PROSAMIN projects. “We’ve also learned that we need to be much more effective when it comes to educating communities about the importance of this particular service, while assisting those who really can’t afford to pay.”

With the help of the Spanish Fund grant, the PROSAMIN program intends to be able to install residential sewer connections in the houses of 15,610 low-income families located in PROSAMIN’s areas of intervention.

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