"The most expensive water is the one that doesn't exist," says Newton. PHOTO: Pedro França/Agência Senado

It sounds weird to say, but it is possible to conclude. The water supply crisis that devastates the State of São Paulo brought a positive point: it made urgent the awareness that it is necessary to reinvent the management of our water resources. Who says, in an interview with Brasileiros, is Newton de Lima Azevedo of the World Water Council (WWC), the World Water Council. The non-governmental organization defends vital inputs on a global scale, brings together around 300 institutions from 70 countries and was created in France, in 1996, in the city of Marseille. In the WWC, Azevedo plays the role of governor, as the representatives of each of the affiliated nations are called. The entity is also chaired, since 2013 and until 2017, by another Brazilian, civil engineer Benedito Braga, an academic at USP, with decades of experience in issues related to water defense.

Azevedo is also vice president of the Brazilian Association of Infrastructure and Basic Industries (ABDIB) and is at the forefront of a commitment signed by Brazil last February: to host, in 2018, in the federal capital, Brasília, the 8th World Water Forum. . Holding the event in Brazil is providential. It converges with the WWC's intention to expand its global policies, as this is the first occasion that the forum will be held in a country in the Southern Hemisphere (the 7th edition will take place in South Korea, in April 2015), and will allow the solutions to the huge deficit in Latin America.

In terms of the continent's basic sanitation demands alone, more than 300 million citizens do not have treated sewage, with a third of them living in Brazil. In our territory, in addition to organic and chemical waste, which contaminate lakes, rivers and the ocean, there are still states of the Federation, such as Piauí, which waste up to 60% of treated drinking water due to the precariousness of the distribution network. But the issue of supply to the common consumer, who demands 10% of treated water, according to the WWC, is just the tip of the iceberg of irresponsible management closely linked to private power. Seventy percent of the country's drinking water is indiscriminately used in agribusiness. Another 20% is destined for the industry, which is beginning to rehearse changes in habits, since it began to be penalized with severe fines. As we will see below, it is possible to be optimistic, but there is still a lot to be done to rescue the lost water.

Brasileiros – How was Brazil chosen to host the 8th World Water Forum?
Newton de Lima Azevedo – The strongest argument we made to bring the forum to Brazil was: “If the council really wants to be treated as a World Water Council, it has to be, in fact, global”, as this will be the first forum in the Southern Hemisphere. There were nine competitors and, in the end, two were left: Brazil, based in Brasília, and Denmark, based in Copenhagen. And it is very difficult to compare Copenhagen with Brasilia, as they are cities with totally different realities. Around here, we still have one hundred million Brazilians without access to treated sewage. And this call to bring the forum to South America was strategic, since across the continent there are 300 million people without basic sanitation. One hundred million here and another 200 in the other 12 countries. With all due respect to Copenhagen, the third derivative of the carbon credit is discussed there, but here we still have poop going into rivers, lakes and the sea. In Brazil, water is still an untamed “animal”. We went to open voting and got 23 out of 35 votes.

In 2018, there will be a new presidential election. In the next four years, until the forum is held, what measures should be demanded of the president who will be elected in 2014?
The city of Brasília is signing this contract with the WWC, with the approval of the federal government, through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of the Environment. We will sign the contract on September 15th and we intend to shield the event from any political connotations. To keep this flame burning, there is a fundamental action, which will also depend on government support: we are working on a project that will begin to be implemented immediately after the next forum, which will take place in South Korea, in 2015. A program that will extend from the end of from next year until six months after the Brazil forum, in 2018, when we will deliver all reports and referrals to the successor country. We intend to “irrigate” discussions in our society and we need the support of the press to raise public awareness.

Regardless of the forum in 2018, does Brazil already play a leading role in these issues in Latin America?
Yup. Brazil has strong legislation and business models exist. The issue of Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) is still a target of taboos, but it is undeniable that they have also evolved. It is important to say that the WWC has no ideological component. It is pragmatic, as is the water issue, which is very objective. An example: to universalize access to sewage and drinking water in Brazil in 30 years, we need to invest R$ 20 billion per year. With all the effort that the federal government has made, we reached R$ 9 billion. So, one of two things: either we will universalize these services in 50 or 60 years, or we will have to create a legal-institutional environment that makes regulatory agencies exist and attract financial support. The point is that, in Brazil, for the private sector, services related to water compete with other areas of infrastructure. Hence the investor thinks: “Concession of highways is a hell of a business! And isn't the energy even better?!” Even the guy thinks that sanitation is cool, it takes time… But the point is that you can't stay there anymore. We need to review what it means to be “nice”. Sanitation has restrictions on private participation because there is still a silly speech, in my opinion, of saying that water is a citizen's right and a duty of the State, but then the guy dies of thirst next to the little sign on which this is written.

And how can state actions be integrated with the private sector?
In the last ten years, there has been an evolution of PPPs, but the water resources sector can and must mature even more. It is necessary to improve integrated management, as we have a reasonable to good legal framework. Society also needs to be aware of and cover these actions. In the case of São Paulo, it is terrible to say this, but the crisis contributed to the penetration of the discussion in society. There are researches that say that the lack of water, of course, is the problem that most sensitizes Brazilians. As for sewage, citizens have no idea of ​​the problem we face and don't want to know. He presses the toilet and doesn't care if it lands in the lap of the neighbor down the street. These are the concepts that we want to tackle head on, because we have water at a reasonable level of supply and quality. The sewage is that shame. It is unacceptable to think that, in a country that is the seventh world power, people's poop goes straight to the river or the sea.

And why is this still tolerated?
In Brazil, sanitation is treated as the poor cousin of infrastructure. But if we don't have sewage, whose fault is it? I usually say it's like marriage, if the relationship doesn't go well, there's never only one side to blame. So, there are a lot of “guilty” and “guilty”. Starting with the cultural problem. Brazil does not seem to have the real dimension of the impact of this neglect. Suffice it to say that for every real invested in basic sanitation, we can save four dollars in public health. But the most serious problem is undoubtedly the atomization of responsibility. See the example of telecommunications, nowadays we have more cell phones than people in Brazil. A little over 20 years ago, having a telephone line here was an investment. There is no doubt that when you have the concentration of regulation and control at the federal level, it is easier to be effective. Now, with regard to sanitation, there is an absurd confusion, as the person responsible – last in the hierarchy, but the first for being the executor – is the mayor. In Brazil, there must be about 300 cities with cool mayors, committed to bringing basic sanitation to their population, but there are also another three thousand in which the mayor is Toninho da Farmácia who has another thousand problems to deal with before wanting to make a municipal plan. of sanitation. With that, I am not saying that we have to make a kind of “Sanebras”, but the difficulty is not having this integrated management between the Federation, States and Municipalities.

Today, what is the reality of our state-owned sanitation companies?

We currently have 26 state-owned basic sanitation companies. Of these, 20 are bankrupt and have an expense greater than their income. In other words, if you don't even have money to survive, how will you have to invest? The worst thing is that there are federal government programs to help revitalize these companies with the support of the private sector, but they just don't move. Although, from a constitutional point of view, the federal government does not have the right to speak to these states, it would have the moral right to call the governor and president of each of these companies for a frank conversation. After all, these 20 companies are responsible for 70% of the services provided to the Brazilian population. Then you call the guy and say, “Great that you came here. I have no influence on your state, but I offer you a menu of three or four solutions to revitalize your sanitation company. Otherwise, we will not reach the goal of universalizing basic sanitation and drinking water in Brazil by 2030”. Ultimately, the guy has the constitutional right to say, “I don't want any of the three alternatives. I will go back to my city and continue in that pindaíba”. The problem is this dilution and atomization of responsibilities.

How do you interpret the crisis in São Paulo?
As I said before, it is not possible to talk about the universalization of water and sewage, if we don't talk about everything else. Seventy percent of the water goes to agribusiness, 20% to industry and only 10% to supply the population. So, it's no use for me to stay here butting heads with the common consumer, if the industry is wasting water madly and agribusiness, with irrigation and the contamination of sheets by pesticides, is destroying everything out there. But legal instruments are emerging that are making these practices rethink. The industry, by imposition of the National Water Agency (ANA), begins to understand the concept of the polluter pays. The industrialist started to pay dearly when he returns the polluted water to the environment, and this money is reversed in investments for the water basin. The National Confederation of Industry (CNI) and the National Confederation of Agriculture (CNA) are starting to have a dialogue with the WWC.

In the case of agribusiness, in addition to the consumption of more than two thirds of the total drinking water, there is still the issue of intoxication of the sheets by pesticides…
The CNA is starting to dialogue with the WWC, but the point is that agribusiness is a giant sector, which supports millions of jobs in the country. In addition to being one of the pillars of our economy, there are those who insist on the following discourse: “Either we spend water to put food on the table or we will not have food”. A somewhat Manichean view. If you go to countries like Israel, you will conclude that there are great advances in the issue of reuse for agricultural irrigation – which is done there with the least possible consumption of drinking water. In other words, if we don't move to think about water in all sectors, we will never solve the problem. And the biggest management problem today is the loss due to inefficiency. Of the 20 companies that are bankrupt, some like Agespisa, from Piauí, lose up to 60% of the treated water even before it reaches the population. It is necessary to have efficient management, but for that, it is necessary to have regulatory agencies that cover this effectiveness. The industry began to change its attitude, because the thing started to hurt in the pocket, and it had to review its processes. The movements are there, faster than before, but not as fast as we need. São Paulo, today, really has nothing to do, except to save water and light some candles for São Pedro, because these projects take planning and execution time. Research from 2002 already alerted to what is happening in São Paulo, and it is not possible to leave a metropolis of this dimension at the mercy of São Pedro.

Until Brazil reaches the goal of sanitation and drinking water for all, set for 2030, will we not run the risk of facing so many supply crises?
There is a bit of futurology in all of this, but one thing is a fact: the more consciousness there is and the faster that consciousness is incorporated into our society, the less chance that this will happen. Now, if we continue as we are, we can prepare for one crisis after another. But I'm an optimist and I always see the glass as half full. In São Paulo, the population has given a good response to the crisis and the Brazilian people are great, when they understand, things will go away. Of course, he still doesn't understand the sewage problem, but conversations like this are increasingly important. Society needs to have access to this information in a more palatable language to change its habits and demand actions.

Ironically, Brazil has underground reserves of great magnitude, such as the Guarani Aquifer. Why aren't these resources exploited yet? Is it possible to predict when this will happen?
There are plans for the Guarani, but it is not clear when this water will reach us. The big problem is the lack of political will and awareness of the real importance of water. When we export meat, we also export the water that was used in the process. Water flows through everything and has enormous economic value. Water is GDP. It generates and makes you lose a job. Improves or worsens the health of the citizen. There are several small countries where sewage is treated to the point of making it potable water. The guys drink the water that comes from the sewer, happy with life, because it is even cleaner than ours. There are also technologies like desalination and we have a huge coastline. Resources abound. What is lacking is the ability to undertake. Now, if most of our sanitation companies don't even have the money to change water meters, how am I going to tell them to make a reuse station with a Japanese ultrafiltering membrane?

Despite the crisis in São Paulo and all these problems, does your experience allow you to maintain an optimistic stance?
I am an optimist, as are other people who, more than 20 years ago, began to walk this path. In 1995, I worked in one of the first private concessions for sewage treatment, in the city of Limeira, in the interior of São Paulo. A lot of people were against it. We took shots from all sides. After 20 years, they forgot that there was a management of the private sector. Today, the city has 100% potable water and 100% treated sewage. The loss is only 16% and there is 98% approval from the population. In addition, there is less than 1% default in the city. The citizen pays because he is happy and satisfied with the service. It is necessary to realize that the worst of all worlds is: the most expensive water is the one that does not exist.

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