Approved in 2020, the legal framework for basic sanitation and the sector’s privatizations were once again discussed under the Lula government, highlighting initiatives in this field throughout the country’s history.
Based on information and analyzes by eight specialists —some from academia, others from the private sector—, the Sheet retells the history of this service, and Belo Horizonte is the subject of the third chapter: planned city, ended up neglecting the area of water and sewage.
In the first two chapters of this journey, find out who the wastewater tigers were, pioneers of sanitation in Brazil in the 18th century, and learn about the innovations brought by Emperor Dom Pedro 2nd. In the last two chapters, he knew how the model created by the military dictatorship fell apart and where Brazil is at the moment.
3 – The planned city that neglected sanitation
Belo Horizonte is a case of historical inattention to water supply and, mainly, to the collection and treatment of sewage. Being a planned city, deficiencies in these areas could certainly have been avoided.
At the end of the 19th century, the government of Minas Gerais decided to build a new capital to replace Ouro Preto and, with five options on the table, the state Congress chose the region where there was a camp called Curral del Rei. Among other factors, the rich surrounding watershed weighed heavily in this definition, which is a sad irony.
In February 1894, work began under the command of the New Capital Building Commission (CCNC). Among those involved in the execution of the project, attention was drawn to the dissonant opinion of Saturnino de Brito, who would later become the patron saint of Brazilian sanitary engineering.
“Saturnino disagreed with the option for drawing straight lines, which ignored the riverbeds. For him, the city should be conceived precisely from its rivers”, remembers Denise Tedeschi, author of the book “Águas Urbanas – As Formas de Appropriação das Waters in the Mines”.
However, the conception of Aarão Reis, head of the CCNC, prevailed, for whom the streets should overlap the watercourses of the region, such as the Arrudas stream and its tributaries. This point of view would imply the rectification of beds at first and, over the following decades, the channeling of rivers.
The floods that became part of everyday life in the capital of Minas Gerais demonstrate that Brito was right.
There were still other obstacles in this construction phase. Some pipes for sewage disposal came from England and took up to three months to reach Belo Horizonte. As the goal was to build the capital in four years, the miners witnessed a race against time, which had, among other consequences, the suspension of works in progress.
Running and improvisation took their toll. When inaugurated, in 1897, the city did not have large sewage galleries, only smaller, lower-cost pipes, according to Tedeschi.
In this initial period, Belo Horizonte prioritized the supply of water to sewage treatment, as, incidentally, has been common in decisions in Brazil throughout history. There are two main points that explain this path, say experts. In addition to the cost of supply being, in general, lower, people feel more aggrieved when there is no water or when it arrives at home with poor quality.
“When there is no water, the family feels harmed. Without sewage collection and treatment, the damage is the collective responsibility, not the individual nature”, comments civil engineer Jerson Kelman, doctor in hydrology and water resources.
However, even the water supply fell short of the expectations of residents of the new capital of Minas Gerais in those early years. Only the areas where senior civil servants lived, such as judges, had piped water.
What Tedeschi calls “water segregation” then took place. The new water system did not reach, for example, the neighborhoods where the masons who had built Belo Horizonte lived, still dependent on the fountains.
The rivers that had not yet been channeled turned into urban waste, says the historian, creating a “terrible situation for a capital that promised to be healthy”. The neglect of politicians and engineers with sanitation resulted in a burden for Belo Horizonte throughout the 20th century and even in recent years.
Sanitation is not a priority for the political elites, this is our big problem. They prefer to invest in housing, transport, energy. It’s because? Because sanitation is a very complex area, which depends on integrative governance. If we disregard its different dimensions, we will have an impoverishing result
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