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Safe water from the sky


Pernambuco State, located in the semiarid region of Northeast Brazil, is marked by low rainfall and extreme poverty. The majority of its inhabitants have no access to safe drinking water. In the dry season, women and children walk up to four hours to fetch poor-quality water for human consumption.

Unclear water contributes to the high rates of diarrheal illness in the region, causing an estimated 1 in 4 child deaths. Furthermore, the arduous task of obtaining water subtracts from the time that women can devote to taking care of the family, housework or a small business and that children can spend doing homework and attending school.

In 2002, the Brazilian government established the Pernambuco 1 Million Cisterns Program to assist families in the country’s semi-arid northeast with installing cisterns for harvesting rainwater on the roofs of their homes. Such cisterns make whole families healthier and more productive by keeping water clean – reducing water-borne illnesses – and sparing women and children the task of fetching water. Unfortunately, many families do not qualify to participate in the program because their roofs do not meet the technical requirements for installing a cistern.

This project, known as “Agua para Vidas” in Portuguese, was designed to complement the Pernambuco initiative. It aims to enable 400 poor rural families in Pernambuco State, 260 of those with Swiss Re Foundation support,) to improve their access to clean water, and thereby their quality of life, by helping them qualify for program support.

Project goals

Over a two-year period, the project will assist in adapting the roofs of the families’ homes to meet the technical conditions for participation in the water program.

Educate the community about the importance of water resources and encourage good practice in the handling and use of water for consumption and hygiene

Train the community to participate in councils in which women leaders play a role in decision-making

Involve families in all stages of the project, including planning

While the costs of cistern construction will be covered by the project, families will be directly engaged in the process of repairing roofs and installing the rainwater harvesting tanks. Each family will also help cover the cost of construction technical assistance, drill the area where the tanks will be built and support the builders throughout the entire reconstruction process.

More than 1,000 people in Pernambuco – 260 families with an average of 4 members each – will benefit from the roof repairs and cistern construction. Each year a further 100, 200 or even more families could benefit from assistance provided by the 52 young people who will be trained as part of the project

Swiss Re Foundation´s aid in Brazil

Since 2012 the Swiss Re Foundation has partnered with Habitat to support families in Brazil’s Goitá Basin in their quest for a better and more stable life. Women who make living by peeling cassava in the flourmills face extreme poverty, gender inequality and precarious housing conditions.

Habitat Brazil’s Rebuilding Women’s Lives Sustainably Project is changing that by integrating various social development programs in the area. In 2013 the cooperation extended to support the Water for Lives project also in Brazil.