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Bringing Access to Safe Water in Ceará, Brazil: PepsiCo Foundation and the Columbia Water Center to Participate in Rio+20

By Silvia Cruz-Vargas

The PepsiCo Foundation and The Columbia Water Center (CWC), a part of Columbia University’s Earth Institute, have been working together since 2008 to find solutions to water scarcity around the world. The Foundation supports CWC projects aimed at addressing water needs and improving community livelihood in India, Brazil, China, and Mali. Two of the major projects that the CWC is working on are in Ceará, Brazil – which lies about 1,500 hundred miles north of Rio de Janeiro where PepsiCo and the CWC are participating in the Rio+20 event this week.

The attendees in Rio will surely be talking about a variety of solutions to global development issues and the work in Ceará is a great example of how public-private partnerships can provide innovative solutions to complex global problems.

Over the last 100 years, there were seven years in which the rainfall was so low in Ceará that even the largest river had no flow! As many as two million people died in droughts in the 1870s. The government built massive water reservoirs to address this situation but people living in rural communities continue to have poor access, with water delivered by tankers during periods of drought and unreliable supplies at most times.

Ceará residents discuss how the CWC/ PepsiCo Foundation project has improved their lives.

In tackling these issues, the CWC identified several, replicable best practices:

  • Work closely with regional stakeholders: CWC organized an interdisciplinary team that included the University Federal Ceará (UFC) to develop and field test solutions for rural communities. The partners piloted a rural drinking water project in two water-stressed communities in Milhã that could serve as a prototype for solutions across Ceará.
  • Identify where past efforts failed: People said that since they never got reliable water, they did not want to pay for a water supply. They also did not believe that anyone could solve their problem.
  • Identify multiple options: All possible sources of water that could be developed were identified. Their costs, reliability under a changing climate, water quality, and ability to maintain were analyzed.
  • Involve local communities: The scientists worked with people in the communities to see how best they could be organized into an association for managing and maintaining a water system, building mutual trust, and explaining the options, their costs and what they would need to do on their own to keep it going. These discussions led to a selection of a water source, a management plan, including water rates and an organization for running the system. Project funds then helped build the infrastructure with the understanding that the users would maintain and pay for the system. See a video where residents discuss how their lives have changed.
  • Build on successes and develop best practices for the future: The Milhã work led to the development of a detailed technical manual and planning process for how the social and technical process can be replicated elsewhere that the Ceará state Departments of Agriculture and Rural Development have embraced throughout the state.

The CWC-UFC-PepsiCo Foundation partnership has advanced PepsiCo Foundation’s philanthropic work and has accelerated impacts in Brazil with regard to water security. The successes of this project will help inform many of the conversations taking place at Rio+20, and will support the notion that dramatic change is possible when stakeholders work together and seek non-traditional solutions.

Update: Articles on the partnership in the Guardian, “PepsiCo: Enriching lives in Brazil with running water” and in the Huffington Post, “Food and Water: Collaboration for the Next Billion”

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Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

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