Living with Dignity in an Inhospitable Region

An aerial view of the northeastern semi-arid region of Brazil reveals the transformative power of the partnership between government and civil society. What was once a harsh and medieval landscape with no water, no electricity and no rights for the population, has now seen thousands of small oases emerge, even in the midst of one of the most severe droughts in Brazilian history.

Where once women and children walked kilometers every day with water cans on their heads, now there are cisterns. On satellite images, they appear as small dots, whitewashed to help ensure water quality. Together, the cisterns reach 1.2 million family farmers or about 4.5 million people. In a vast territory, almost twice the size of France, cisterns can store up to 27 billion liters of water, not only for human consumption, but also for small-scale food production.

In just 12 years, it has been possible to break a five-century-long connection between drought, poverty and social exclusion. In just over a decade, Brazil experienced a quiet revolution that democratized access to water for those who previously had to pay to use this natural resource from the farms of large landowners. Today, the water comes straight from the sky to the cisterns. Rainfall in the region, due to its irregularity, may not be sufficient for cultivation, but it still fills the cisterns and quenches thirst.

I point to this example to talk about one of the new Sustainable Development Goals: Goal 17 on partnerships for sustainable development, which includes the spread of environmental technologies, monitoring of actions and appropriate financing.

Cisterns are excellent examples to address sustainable development because they reconcile the social, economic and environmental dimensions of the development model we want. They are a simple technology, created from the knowledge of the men and women of —> Read More