urban tragedies

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By CLÁUDIO DI MAURO, ERMÍNIA MARICATO & JOSÉ MACHADO*

The situation of precariousness and the immense social debt of the sanitation sector in relation to the Brazilian population is obvious.

Even before completing ten days of work, the new government of Brazil was the target of various types of attacks, with emphasis on two of them in particular. The first was the disastrous coup attempt against the results of the last elections perpetrated on January 8, something that gained unquestionable visibility, both nationally and internationally. The other obvious attack is less spectacular, but perhaps even more harmful to democracy and Brazilian society, as it has the so-called “market” as its protagonist, in solid partnership with the hegemonic media: it is about the inappropriate criticism of the government that began before even in your possession.

Unlike what he did in his first administrations, the current president responded to market attacks by criticizing the highest interest rate on the planet and the “independence” of the Central Bank (the fourth independent power in Brazil?). The Lula government found a budget prepared by the previous government that did not contemplate its project and the commitments with which it was elected, especially the inclusion of popular sectors in public spending. To effect such inclusion, it prepared a Proposal for an Amendment to the 2023 Budget that generated a huge reaction from the so-called “market”.

The “PEC of spending”, or “PEC of the burst”, are some of the expressions used in the press to refer to the project that won the elections.[I] The most surprising of these attacks took place through some headlines of various journalistic articles that hinted that the “market” was frustrated with the success and strengthening of the Lula government after facing the events of January 8th.

On January 10th, the newspaper Folha de S. Paul recorded in the headline for the story on the inside page: “Effects on the economy from the strengthening of a PT member worry investors”. Two other headlines for journalistic articles in that newspaper, and on the same page, record: “Acts worry foreigners, but less than Lula’s economic agenda”[ii] and “Defence of democracy strengthens PT, and government will need to return to the center, say economists”.[iii] Is it an exaggeration to conclude that the “market” character does not give the slightest importance to democracy? Or for the stability of institutions and who have no interest in reducing hunger and the hardships of the most impoverished populations?

The issue of basic sanitation has been a particular reason for these absolutely premature attacks. The “market” criticized measures proposed by the Lula government's transition team, which proposed changes in the ANA (National Water and Sanitation Agency) and in ordinances referring to the Sanitation Regulatory Framework approved in 2020. The newspaper The State of S. Paul prints on its front page on 15/12/22: “Boulos' team suggests that Lula remove sanitation from the Water Agency; experts see risks.” It was not the “Boulos team”, which was one of more than 20 members of the Working Group “Cities in the Government Transition Commission”. It was not even suggested, exactly, “take sanitation away from the National Water and Sanitation Agency”, although, let's face it, this is a question that needs to be discussed democratically.

Why such inaccuracy in informing readers? However, the most arrogant attitude of this episode was in the treatment given to the “specialists” and “technicians” of the “market” as opposed to the “interference of politicians”. “What we want is for these norms to be made in a robust, technical way, with a team immunized from political issues”, declared a “specialist” of the “market” in one of the aforementioned journalistic articles.

The pretense of neutrality of the “experts” or “technicians” of the “market” who consider themselves “immune to political issues” is notable. If we decide to occupy our time in this semiotic dispute, it is to inform the “experts” of the “market” that they are wrong when they think that the privatization of sanitation will solve the legal determination of universalization of these services by 2033, as determined law 14.026/2020.

The situation of precariousness and the immense social debt of the sanitation sector in relation to the Brazilian population is obvious. It will be necessary to recognize the importance of water and sanitation issues that should be at the center of policies and annual investments, as priorities, as we are facing one of the biggest problems in the country. Access to drinking water and the collection, removal and treatment of sewage, in addition to the collection and disposal of solid waste, have everything to do with the health of the population and the environment.

Practically 15% of the Brazilian population does not have regular access to drinking water. More than 45% do not have sewage collected and, of what is collected, only about 50% is treated. The water network is the final destination of a large part of sewage and urban waste, which determines the general pollution of watercourses around cities. However, what the “experts” of the “market” do not know or do not recognize is that most of this sanitation deficit is also a city deficit. We are referring to the urban population, in this case, although a large part of the deficit is rural, but in both cases the solution does not lie in private and fragmented business action in the territory.

The tragedies that hit the north coast of São Paulo, this carnival in 2023, only prove the purpose that we want to highlight here, that the housing settlement of a large part of the Brazilian population is carried out without the State and without a “market”: with legal disregard for the registration of land ownership, land use and occupation laws and the building code; lack of technical knowledge, due to the lack of architects, engineers, geographers, geologists and other professionals; lack of public investment or private financing in the construction of houses. The pure and simple illegal occupation of lands that are not of interest to the formal real estate market and the purchase of illegal lots are solutions for the complete and total lack of alternatives.

Driven out of the coastal strip by the real estate market, the popular classes were left with no alternative but the deforested slopes of the unstable Serra do Mar. The price of land, resulting from the investments and attributes that surround it, is at the heart of this inequality. The knot of land – the formal ownership of valued land – divides Brazilian society into countryside and city. The issue is historical and structural, tragedies are recurrent and the future is worrisome, as the informal housing market is strongly marked by the action of militias and organized crime in all regions of the country.

In 2019, the number of homes in favelas in Brazil was 5,12 million (IBGE), that is, more than 20 million Brazilians live in favelas where there is no regular street (or address). Many of these favelas, especially in the north and northeast of the country, are built on stilts. A large part of the urban population – in many metropolises, the majority – occupies legally fenced areas, with informal constructions, such as: Permanent Protection Areas (APPs), Spring Protection Areas (APMs), areas subject to flooding, areas at risk of landslides and landslides, among others.

These informal constructions are exactly those that have no address, no paving with urban drainage, no access to drinking water, no sewer removal, no garbage collection, or even public lighting in their streets. And those who live in them are also those who cannot pay for the services, needing and should be contemplated with public subsidies. Urban illegality – still characterized by environmental and territorial racism – is the rule and not the exception in urban Brazil, a reality whose scale is often unknown, even in the academic world.

The importance of the welfare State, the importance of public policies and the importance of democratic regulation – economic, social, territorial – is fundamental for health, for environmental and economic sustainability. A systemic view of urban space must replace private, sectoral, fragmented, speculative and rentier interests if we want to overcome the abysmal inequality in Brazil. This is definitely not a strictly technical problem, as the so-called “market” wants. It is, in substance, essentially political.

Claudio Di Mauro, former mayor of Rio Claro, he is professor of Geography at the Federal University of Uberlândia (UFU).

*Erminia Maricato, architect and urban planner, she is a retired full professor at FAU-USP. Author, among other books, of To understand the urban crisis (popular expression).

jose machado and isformer mayor of Piracicaba and former CEO of National Water and Sanitation Agency (ANA).

Notes


[I] https://www1.folha.uol.com.br/mercado/2022/12/camara-aprova-texto-base-da-pec-da-gastanca-apos-desidratacao-da-proposta.shtml.

[ii] https://www1.folha.uol.com.br/mercado/2023/01/atos-golpistas-preocupam-investidores-estrangeiros-mas-menos-que-agenda-economica-de-lula.shtml

[iii] https://www1.folha.uol.com.br/mercado/2023/01/defesa-da-democracia-fortalece-lula-mas-governo-precisara-de-agenda-ao-centro-dizem-economistas.shtml

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