Experts work to help sustain water, life in Brazilian city

by Susan Stern
Staff writer

UBC's Centre for Human Settlements is leading a major international collaborative project to develop a community-based watershed management system in Santo André, one of 39 municipalities in Saõ Paulo, Brazil -- the largest metropolitan area in South America.

Although Santo André is highly industrialized, 60 per cent of the municipality is located in watershed areas that supply about 10 per cent of the drinking water to the 20 million people in metropolitan Saõ Paulo.

Although the area is officially protected from settlement, poor Brazilians live in the area unofficially and have inadequate water supply, sewage control, garbage collection and social services.

"The plan is to integrate informal settlement areas into the serviced urban system and at the same time protect the water sources," says Peter Boothroyd, chair of UBC's Centre for Human Settlements.

Boothroyd says the Santo André municipal council is committed to dealing with the problems in a way that supports sustainable development and public participation.

The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) has provided $1.2 million for the three-year project, which also involves other Canadian and Brazilian partners.

On Jan. 25, a dozen Brazilian regional and municipal planners and specialists arrive at UBC for the program's first two-week training session.

Experts from UBC's School of Community and Regional Planning, Institute for Resources and Environment and the Women's Studies Program will participate.

Vancouver City Hall and Greater Vancouver Regional District planners as well as staff from the Institute for Dispute Resolution at the University of Victoria will also take part.

A key member of the Santo André project is Prof. Hans Schreier from the Institute for Resources and Environment. He has developed a CD-ROM that Boothroyd describes as a "highly successful teaching and planning tool" that has already proven a great hit with officials in Brazil.

Schreier's CD-ROM shows key resource conditions and assists in identifying watershed issues and problems that affect water management.

"People can see probable scenarios, and they can see the possible consequences of their actions at the community level and decisions made at an institutional level," says Schreier.

Working with Santo André professionals, the UBC team will develop a CD-ROM for water management in metropolitan Saõ Paulo. This tool will bring together existing data on natural resources and human settlements. It will also help project members assess options.

Boothroyd and Schreier are joined on the UBC team by Erika De Castro, the project co-ordinator, Community and Regional Planning Assoc. Prof. Penny Gurstein and Asst. Prof. Michael Leaf, Prof. Aprodicio Laquian and research associate Basil van Horen of the Centre for Human Settlements as well as Institute for Resources and Environment research associate Sandra Brown.

Workshops held in Santo André for community and regional authorities will be followed by a six-month training program in Brazil and at UBC for Brazilian university professors of planning and housing, municipal officials, community leaders and representatives from non-governmental organizations.

Pilot projects will follow from which plans to upgrade the area's sewage, water quality control, environmental education and community services will be developed.