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Securing water for São Paulo: analyzing the dynamics of water infrastructure and governance in the macro-metropolis

Grant number: 18/03355-8
Support type:Research Grants - Visiting Researcher Grant - International
Duration: July 17, 2019 - December 16, 2019
Field of knowledge:Humanities - Geography - Human Geography
Cooperation agreement: CONFAP ; Newton Fund, with FAPESP as a partner institution in Brazil ; UK Academies
Principal Investigator:Pedro Roberto Jacobi
Grantee:Pedro Roberto Jacobi
Visiting researcher: Jessica Rachel Budds
Visiting researcher institution: University of East Anglia (UEA), England
Home Institution: Instituto de Energia e Ambiente (IEE). Universidade de São Paulo (USP). São Paulo , SP, Brazil


The aim of this project is to analyze framings of and strategies towards water security in the São Paulo macro-metropolis in the context of climate change. The context of the macro-metropolis - the urban and rural territory that is interdependent with the São Paulo metropolitan region - matters here, as water is sourced at increasing distances from São Paulo, competition is increasing over water diverted to the megacity, and water is primarily managed and governed by state-wide institutions, including the water supply and sanitation company, SABESP. Following São Paulo's water crisis in 2014-15, which was caused by a combination of climatic and anthropogenic factors, Brazil's National Water Agency has emphasized the need to improve water security, through improved infrastructure and governance. This reflects a conventional approach to water security, that seeks to supply water to address insecurity, rather than transform the water-society relations that underpin it. While effective governance can play an important role in achieving water security, it is nevertheless important to examine not just how it is organized, but how it is structured, and how these structures may sustain rather than reform the drivers of water insecurity. The project thus explores the relationship between water security, water infrastructure, and water governance at the scale of the macro-metropolis, focusing on both security of water resources as well as drinking water supply, in the context of climate change. Its aim is to examine the nature and dynamics of proposals to increase water security in São Paulo, considering two aspects: first, the interrelationship between water resources and potable water services at the scale of the macro-metropolis; and, second, the institutional organization of the water and sanitation sector across São Paulo state, with a particular focus on the role of SABESP in water governance. The principal research question is: How are water security practice and discourse in the São Paulo macro-metropolis shaped by water-society relations, and how do interventions and narratives to secure water reshape those water-society relations? The empirical work will explore how water is being secured in São Paulo, why, and with what outcomes and implications across the macro-metropolis. This will entail investigating the institutional landscape and interdependencies between different stakeholders, policies for extracting water and treating wastewater, the role of SABESP as a public-private partnership for water services provision, and proposals for infrastructure works and their justification. The research will use documentation analysis, qualitative interviews, surveys and observational methods to understand dynamics at the level of the macro-metropolis in general, and in case studies of a watershed committee and a municipal water supply provider, in order to explore water resources and water services dynamics in more depth at the local level. Through project reports and publications, and an academic workshop, the project will contribute to academic and policy debates around water security in city-regions, including the role of the private sector, and produce insights that can inform other similar cases, such as La Paz (Bolivia) and Cape Town (South Africa). (AU)