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Dictatorship health plans crumbled in its decline


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The approval of the legal framework for basic sanitation, in 2020, and the debates on the subject that should take place in the coming months, under the Lula government, highlight the 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—, Folha retells the story of a service that still cannot bring drinking water to 14% of the population —which leaves Brazil in 85th place in a ranking of 137 countries—and still leaves 51% of Brazilians without sewage—which takes us to 76th place among 129 countries.

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In the first three chapters of this journey, find out who the wastewater tigers were, pioneers of sanitation in Brazil in the 18th century, learn about the innovations brought by Emperor Dom Pedro 2nd. and understand why Belo Horizonte, despite being a planned city, let the sanitation train pass.

4 – The military’s plan

The Getúlio Vargas era represented a setback for basic sanitation in the country, according to Aspásia Camargo.

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In previous decades, the so-called Old Republic, companies linked to municipalities and private companies predominated in this sector. “When he came to power in 1930, Getúlio made it clear that he did not want to live with the privatism of the time. This vision was disastrous because it hindered the expansion of sanitation. the sociologist.

As of 1956, Juscelino Kubitschek followed a path similar to that of the Rio Grande do Sul leader, assigning a supporting role to the sector, observes Aspásia. “Developmentalism was much more associated with initiatives linked to transport and energy”, she says.

The 1960s were coming to an end when the military dictatorship issued a decree creating the National Sanitation Plan (Planasa). Issues such as water supply and sewage collection gained attention from the Federal Executive as never before during the republican period.

“Planasa was the first major policy aimed at sanitation in Brazil. Until then, there were mainly municipal companies, which specialized in water distribution and sewage systems, but still in small volumes”, says Edison Carlos, from the Instituto Aegea.

Coordinated by the BNH (National Housing Bank), Planasa strongly encouraged the creation of State Basic Sanitation Companies (CESBs), to which resources were earmarked for the implementation or improvement of water and sewage systems. Thus, companies such as Sabesp from São Paulo, Copasa from Minas Gerais and Casan from Santa Catarina emerged.

According to Kelman, president of Sabesp from 2015 to 2018, the federal government was right “by defining that the sanitation service would need to have scale”. Planasa encouraged the regionalization of service provision, leaving aside the idea of ​​the municipality as a concession unit. “Since then, there has been a great improvement in drinking water coverage, but not so much in sewage treatment”, says the engineer.

The program worked well while the military dictatorship had investment capacity, financing state companies. “The model crumbled from the 1980s onwards”, recalls Rogério Tavares, vice-president of institutional relations at Aegea.

One of Planasa’s goals was to serve 50% of the country’s urban population with sewage by 1980, as Luana Pretto, president of the Trata Brasil Institute, recalls. Data from 11 years later indicated that the country was still far from reaching that target, with only 35%.

When it was extinguished in the 1990s, the plan left successful legacies, such as the Paraná company Sanepar, and others far from excellence, such as the Rio de Janeiro Cedae. “In addition to the lack of investment, Cedae suffered from political interference”, says civil engineer Márcio Santa Rosa about the company, which was granted, in large part, to the private sector in the year before last.

In Brazil we have a lot of scientific knowledge to advance with sanitation, this has never been lacking. What is lacking is political will.

5 – And now?

The country took a relevant step in 2007, in the second term of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (PT), with the law that expanded the list of services within what is understood as basic sanitation. Until then, there was talk of sewage collection and treatment, in addition to water supply. Since then, drainage, urban cleaning and solid waste management have been incorporated into the package.

This law also contributed to improve the regulation of the sector. There has not been, however, a significant growth in the service to the population since then.

The most recent episode in this centuries-old history is the 2020 regulatory framework, which began to be conceived under the administration of Michel Temer (MDB) and was approved under the government of Jair Bolsonaro (PL).

The measure paved the way for greater participation by private companies. An essential aspect in this sense was the breaking of the so-called “program contracts”, which allowed state sanitation companies to be contracted by city halls without bidding.

Luana Pretto assesses the new milestone positively. “These are measures that open the possibility for more investment alternatives. If the state company’s work is working out, excellent! It should be maintained [pela prefeitura responsável pela contratação]. But what about the cases in which the company fails to advance towards the universalization of services? You need to have a plan B”, says the president of the Trata Brasil Institute.

She uses data from 2021 to extend her argument. “That year, Sabesp invested R$126 per inhabitant while the average in Brazil was R$82. In Acre, for example, it was R$5. In some regions, there are companies without money to promote this universalization.”

Jerson Kelman thinks similarly. According to him, the new framework “does not oblige the sanitation company to be private, but allows it to be private”. For him, the nature of the company —public or private— should not be the main concern, but whether it works well or not.

There is, however, no consensus on the subject. Head professor of the sanitary and environmental engineering department at the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG), Leo Heller is among the specialists who emphatically criticize the new model.

“[Essa medida] opens space for ample private participation, mainly in those municipalities with greater economic attractiveness”, said Heller to the UFMG radio.

In 2033, the year indicated by the new milestone as the goal of universal sanitation, we will know whether the measures have become good news, as in the pioneering initiative of Dom Pedro 2º, or if we have accumulated yet another fiasco, as in the planning of the sewage system in Belo Horizonte. It will then be another story to be told.

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