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Market-based solution to climate melts under the sun in Brazil

March 2012


Last December, the Brazilian government announced plans to replace a successful grassroots effort to build one million cisterns with a less community-controlled process using pre-fabricated PVC cisterns. In protest, more than 15,000 people from different states gathered in the city of Petrolina to challenge the decision, prompting the Rousseff government to promise to restore funds for the grassroots-driven water program. However, the government stopped short of meeting protestors’ demands, maintaining the idea of using plastic cisterns instead of natural materials.   PVC is considered a carcinogenic compound and poses a public health hazard. But that is only half of the problem. The distribution of plastic cisterns undermines the civic participation in the design and implementation of public policy.   If public protest was not sufficient for the government to discontinue its insistence on the PVC material, nature provided the final answer. A few days after the delivery of the first lot, the brand new plastic cisterns melted under the 100-degree heat common in the semi-arid area.   Adding insult to injury, families who were eager to access fresh, clean water are now stuck with a five-foot by eight-foot piece of toxic garbage. The government has promised to address the melting problem with the Mexican contractor and replace the deformed cisterns.   The case of the “melted cisterns” in Northeast Brazil is another example that one-size-fits-all, market-based solutions cannot properly address the critical issues of climate change. The cistern model and the participatory process proposed by the One Million Cisterns Program arose after years of a community-driven initiative, and it was working. Market-based substitutes like the PVC cisterns fail to offer the same sustainable solution as, locally generated projects like the Million Cisterns Program.   The commitment of government officials to the market-based solutions to climate change will be further displayed at the Rio+20 Summit on Sustainable Development to be held in Brazil this June.   The gathering in Rio de Janeiro – and the accompanying protests surrounding it — are expected to attract thousands of people, including environmentalists, indigenous people, and students. In the hopes of debating the challenges and solutions to climate change, they will travel to Brazil to learn about successful practices of mitigating climate change. A short trip to the semi-arid region near Petrolina would be worth the time to learn directly from peasants and indigenous people. Grassroots International was proud to support our partners in the semi-arid region in the early stages of the community’s development of the cistern model that led to the national One Million Cisterns Program. 

* Photo courtesy of The Semi-Arid Network (ASA).


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