Sao Paulo Sem Agua

Despite having the world’s largest water supply, taps are running dry in Brazil’s largest city, Sao Paulo. Other major cities, such as Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais are also being forced to grapple with the worst drought in nearly a century. While February’s rainfall has been above average, it is still a long way from replenishing reserves to stable levels.

But how has the water shortage situation become so dire? The origins of the crisis go far beyond the recent drought and can be attributed to array of factors:

  • Sao Paulo experienced unprecedented population growth during the 20th With over 20 million residents, the city’s outdated water system, known for its poor infrastructure and leaky pipes, has increasingly been unable to meet growing consumption demands. It is estimated that more than 30% of the city’s treated water is lost to leaks and pilfering[1]. Over the years, ineffective maintenance has led to the depletion of Sao Paulo’s water system.
  • Sao Paulo’s main water reservoir network, the Cantareira system, is at its lowest point ever recorded, below 7% of its capacity[2].
  • Severe pollution of the Tiete and Pinheiros rivers has eliminated these as a viable water source.
  • Population growth has led to the destruction of surrounding forests and wetlands that have historically soaked up rain and released the water into the reservoirs.
  • Deforestation in the Amazon River basin is also at fault. Experts cite that cutting down the forest reduces its capacity to release humidity into the air, reducing rainfall in southeast Brazil[3]. Loss of the world’s greatest rainforest has disrupted Brazil’s weather patterns[4].
  • Scientists state that global warming is also to blame for the severe drought conditions. Nonetheless, Brazil’s new science minister, Aldo Rebelo, a denier or climate change, discredits this assertion[5].

To deal with the water shortage, Sao Paulo’s water utility Sabesp is promoting incentives for families to reduce their water usage, instituting fines for excessive usage, and installing water savers on taps[6]. While rationing has not officially been implemented, the shutoffs residents are experiencing are a de facto form of rationing. Since last year, residents have reported shutoffs lasting from hours to days on end. The water utility claims it is planning the construction of new reservoirs, however, these efforts won’t aid the crisis in the short-term.

In the meantime, residents have taken to the streets to protest the local and national mismanagement that has led to the intensifying water crisis. Residents and business owners have had to adjust their lifestyle to account for the shortages. Bathing on a daily basis has become impossible for millions, and running a business in a sanitary way has become a challenge. Schools have altered their school lunch menus to account for the lack of water to wash dishes, hair dressers have had to restrict their services because they cannot wash clients’ hair, and restaurants have struggled with food preparation and sanitation requirements.

While Sao Paulo residents look to the government to find an immediate solution to the water crisis, the prospect of a short-term solution is bleak. Water specialists warn that Sao Paulo may only be experiencing the early stages of the crisis[7].

Analidis Ochoa-Bendaña
MPP ’15

[1] Romero, Simon. “Taps Start to Run Dry in Brazil’s Largest City.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 16 Feb. 2015. Web. 23 Feb. 2015. <;.

[2] Loria, Kevin. “São Paulo and the 20 Million People Who Live There Are Literally Running out of Water and It’s Getting Dangerous.” Business Insider. Business Insider, Inc, 18 Feb. 2015. Web. 23 Feb. 2015.

[3] Romero, Simon. “Taps Start to Run Dry in Brazil’s Largest City.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 16 Feb. 2015. Web. 23 Feb. 2015. <;.

[4] Romero, Simon. “Taps Start to Run Dry in Brazil’s Largest City.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 16 Feb. 2015. Web. 23 Feb. 2015. <;.

[5] Watts, Jonathan. “Brazil’s Worst Drought in History Prompts Protests and Blackouts.” The Guardian. The Guardian, 23 Jan. 2015. Web. 23 Feb. 2015. <;.

[6] Bowater, Donna. “Taps Run Dry in Brazil’s Biggest City as Drought Bites.” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 23 Feb. 2015. Web. 23 Feb. 2015. <;.

[7] Romero, Simon. “Taps Start to Run Dry in Brazil’s Largest City.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 16 Feb. 2015. Web. 23 Feb. 2015. <;.


Cadastro Unico: Behind the Scenes of Bolsa Familia

Targeting is a key issue in any social welfare program, and Brazil’s Bolsa Familia program is no exception. As the largest conditional cash transfer program in the world, the Brazilian government has worked hard to ensure the beneficiaries are among the poorest in society. This effort has been recognized by the World Bank, which called Bolsa familia “the best targeted CCT [conditional cash transfer] scheme in Latin America.”[1] Bolsa Familia owes much of its targeting success to Cadastro Unico, a single registry that has consolidated data on Brazil’s most vulnerable and has enabled Brazil to expand and improve its social welfare system. This database now contains information on 40% of Brazilian families,[2] and is used by Bolsa Familia, Literate Brazil, Minha Casa Minha Vida and a wide range of other social assistance programs.

First introduced in 2001 by President Cardoso, Cadastro Unico was significantly strengthened in 2003 when Bolsa Familia consolidated four separate cash transfer programs under one name. The system has continued to develop, and in 2010 an online version, Cadunico, was launched.[3] With the goal of increasing efficiency, improving targeting of social assistance programs, and increasing the knowledge and understanding of Brazil’s low-income population to facilitate the design of targeted policies, Cadastro Unico is an essential tool for social policy.[4]

Local governments, the federal government and the public bank, Caixa Economica Federal play distinct roles in implementing Bolsa Familia. Local governments identify vulnerable families, collect socioeconomic data through questionnaires, house visits and interviews, and enter the information into the registry.[5] This data includes everything from the geographic location of the household, access to public services (water, electricity, sanitation), household incomes and education levels of each family member.[6] Currently, there are 5570 local governments collecting data for the registry.[7]

While local municipalities participate in data collection, the federal government, through the Ministry of Social Development (MDS), oversees the registry, defines eligibility requirements and cross-checks data within the registry.[8] MDS has defined eligibility criteria based on self-reported incomes. Lastly, Caixa Economica Federal, a public bank chosen to oversee the registry, holds responsibility for managing the database, assigning identification numbers to families and disbursing benefit payments. With the combined work of these actors, Caixa successfully distributes 13.8 million payments a month to Bolsa Familia recipients, an impressive number of transactions for any agency to oversee.[9]

While critics of big government often point to inefficiency as a huge drawback, Brazil has modeled what an efficient system might look like. While far from perfect, Cadastro Unico is a significant step towards efficiently managing large-scale social welfare programs and targeting populations most in need. As a central piece of Brazil’s overarching social program, Brasil sem Misereria, the single registry system will continue to play a significant role in coordinating the many policies focused on ending poverty in Brazil.

Corey Ackerman
MPP ’16

[1] Hall, Anthony. “Brazil’s Bolsa Familia: A Double Edged Sword?” Development and Change. 2008.

[2] Silveira, Fernando Gaiger. “The Single Registry for the Social Programs of the Brazilian Federal Government.” May 2013.

[3] Curralero, Claudia Baddini. “Single Registry for Social Policies Cadastro Unico.” The World Bank.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Lindert, Kathy and Anja Linder, Jason Hobbs and Benedicte de la Briere. “The Nuts and Bolts of Brail’s Bolsa Familia Program: Implementing Conditional Cash Transfers in a Decentralized Context.” The World Bank. May 2007.

[6] Curralero, Claudia Baddini.

[7] Van Langenhove, Thibault. “Cadastro Unico-Operating a Registry through a National Public Bank.” International Labour Office. 2014.

[8] Curralero, Claudia Baddini.

[9] Van Langenhove, Thibault.

Will Brazil Maintain a South-South Development Partnership with Africa?

President Lula da Silva is recognized as the first Brazilian president to be active in international and African policy; his increased foreign engagement resulted in greater investment, trade, and aid. The south-south co-operation, as labeled by President Lula, was originally presented as an altruistic development relationship and began with the president’s diplomatic visits to 29 African states on 12 separate occasions, as well as the establishment of 34 African Embassies in Brasilia.[1] Government also funded development projects in Mozambique, Angola, and Nigeria through the Brazilian Cooperation Agency (ABC) and the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (EMBRAPA). Private corporations followed suit and invested in oil, mining, and construction in Libya, Namibia, and Tanzania.[2]

Between 2003 and 2013 Brazil became engaged in the agricultural, natural resources, and social development sectors in several African nations. By 2009, 6.6% of Brazil’s total imports were from African countries and Brazil was Africa’s third largest trading partner behind China and the United States.[3] This increase in trade is due to private infrastructural investment for oil extraction and agricultural assistance from EMBRAPA which increased production and expanded both markets. In 2004 the Brazilian Ministry of Social Development and Fight Against Hunger began to provide technical assistance to African governments to develop and implement social protection programs, offering their own expertise in developing social programs like Bolsa Familia and Minha Casa Minha Vida.[4] Brazil has been a partner to African nations by empowering governments and employing the local workforce whereas Chinese investors import their own workforce.

The 2010 elections brought President Lula’s foreign policy position into question. Candidate and future President Dilma Rousseff promised to continue and strengthen Brazil’s relationship with developing nations. However, her competitor, Jose Serra, hoped to refocus Brazil’s foreign policy to improve Latin American relations. [5] Despite President Rousseff’s campaign she has actually distanced herself from Brazilian-African relations. One reason for this change in policies was because of heavy domestic criticism on a debt restructuring policy for 12 African countries Rousseff announced in 2013.[6] Her inexperience internationally and failed attempt at diplomacy in Africa raises the question: if diplomatic relations fade, will Brazil remain a partner in development with Africa?

Changes in the markets and increased investment in Africa by France, the UK, and the US are complicating factors to Brazilian development prospects in Africa. Natural Resource markets are becoming crowded and a greater demand for consumer goods and services is emerging; however, if Brazilian investors and development agencies can adjust to these changes in the market then perhaps the south-south co-operation can continue to be productive.[7] Unfortunately, the current economic recession in Brazil casts doubt on African policy and investment improvements happening within the next year.

Amy Wallace
MPP ’16

[1] Muggah, R. Thompson, N. 2015. What is Brazil Really Doing in Africa?. Washington Post.

[2] 2011. Brazil’s Economic Engagement with Africa. The African Development Bank Group.’s_Economic_Engagement_with_Africa_rev.pdf

[3] 2011. Brazil’s Economic Engagement with Africa. The African Development Bank Group.’s_Economic_Engagement_with_Africa_rev.pdf

[4] 2011. Brazil’s Economic Engagement with Africa. The African Development Bank Group.’s_Economic_Engagement_with_Africa_rev.pdf

[5] 2010. Factbox – Positions of Brazil’s Leading Candidates. Reuters.

[6] Muggah, R. Thompson, N. 2015. What is Brazil Really Doing in Africa?. Washington Post.

[7] Muggah, R. Thompson, N. 2015. What is Brazil Really Doing in Africa?. Washington Post.

Bolsa Família


Bolsa Família, the social welfare program that supports Brazil’s most vulnerable families, has won praise worldwide. To better understand this innovative cash transfer program, IEDP spoke with Dr. Ana Clara Duran, postdoctoral research fellow at University of Illinois at Chicago.

Bolsa Família is the largest conditional cash transfer program in the world, helping 50 million of Brazil’s poorest for just .5% of Brazil’s annual GDP. This intersectorial program is managed by the Ministry of Social Development, administered in conjunction with other ministries, and paid out by Caixa Econômica Federal. It represents the consolidation of a multitude of prior cash transfer programs like Bolsa Alimentação, Auxílio Gás, and Bolsa Educação. This consolidation, and the avoidance of multiple in-kind programs as has been pursued elsewhere, has led to an incredibly efficient, scalable solution. The use of benefit cards has also furthered efficiency and helped to reduce fraud.

To be eligible for the program, a family must have per person income below R$ 77.00 (about $30, U.S.), or below 154.00 (about $60, U.S.) if the family has a child 17 years old or younger, or a pregnant or nursing mother. Once basic eligibility is established, the cash transfer amount varies based on certain criteria about the family composition. The average cash transfer is R$ 176.00 a month (about $70, U.S.) and is capped at R$ 336.00 (about $135, U.S.). While the per-person transfer amount may seem low, the program has had incredible impact.

Dr. Duran’s research reveals a variety of benefits. Around 90% of responsible beneficiaries are women, and 80% of the cash benefit is spent on food, clothing, and school supplies. As a result of Bolsa Família, there has been a 26% increase in achievement of adequate height and weight for impoverished Brazilian youth, and a 17% lower infant mortality rate in poor communities where program adoption has been widespread as compared to similar communities with lower rates of adoption. Rates of malnutrition have dropped 65%, diarrhea 53%, and respiratory disease 20%. 47% of poor pregnant women are more likely to receive properly-timed prenatal care. Vaccination rates and class attendance have markedly increased.

One of the reasons for this impact is that the program is conditional. In order to maintain eligibility, a family must vaccinate their children, get twice-yearly health checkups, and send children and adolescents to school. Schools and health clinics communicate this data back to the government, which maintains a level of accountability. While program participants have conditions that they must meet, this is seen more as an effectuation of the government’s responisbility to its people to strengthen human capital and break inter-generational cycles of poverty.

IEDP Brazil thanks Dr. Duran for a great presentation on a topic of such domestic and international importance. It is clear that Bolsa Família is a working model, and a great tool in the pursuit of poverty alleviation.

Matt McCurdy
JD ’15

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