Manaus: From Stilts to Dry Land

Changing the Lives of Families in Brazil's Amazon

Like any child, Rebeca Fernandes is thrilled playing in and around her new home, which in her case is on the shores of the Negro River in Manaus, Brazil. The difference is that when Rebeca’s family recently changed address, her new home was on dry land instead of on stilts over fetid waters. She no longer walks precariously on floating wooden boards to play with her next door neighbor. And most importantly, she doesn´t get sick anymore from contaminated water.

The Fernandes family is one of thousands of households that have benefited from a sanitation and urban development program in Manaus, capital of Amazonas, a state that covers a significant portion of the world’s largest rainforest. In coordination with 17 public agencies and the IDB, Amazonas has been implementing what is called the Social and Environmental Program (PROSAMIM), since March 2006.

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The program is addressing the environmental and social impact of a frantic and chaotic urban expansion that began three decades ago when Brazilians flocked to Manaus for a chance at a better life. The state population jumped five-fold in just three decades. Like the Fernandes family, many settled along the Rio Negro’s floodplains, bordering the seasonal tributaries, known as igarapés, which are constantly at risk of flooding and have no electricity, potable water, or sewer system. Today, an estimated 600,000 peoplelive in precarious conditions in the Educandos-Quarenta watershed near where the oldest part of Manaus was built.

Through the program, 11,539 families living in the watershed have been relocated to safer, better housing, including the Fernandes family. The program has also built 22,400 meters of drainage works and sewer connections and 30,076 meters of paved roads. Rebeca and her friends can now play in three newly-built state parks. Beneficiary households have electricity, clean water, and sewerage and live in communities with basic infrastructure such as roads.

This entire process has been developed under a carefully planned environmental management system, including ample public consultation and community involvement, establishment of a Program Management Unit, and even training for families about community sanitation and conservation.

The results to date offer a promising precedent for reproducing this experience throughout the city of Manaus. The IDB is currently starting a new phase of the program for those living below the 30-meter flood contour in the São Raimundo watershed. As that program phase unfolds, we’ll be helping many other families like the Fernandes’ and many otherhappy and safer children like Rebeca and her friends.