Brazil: Progress towards the integration of water resources management (#289)

The water resources of Brazil are subjected to pollution and mismanagement. Furthermore, it is susceptible to urban flooding and land-slides. To address these issues, action was taken to increase funding to the National Water Agency. In terms of IWRM, the key lesson learnt is the need for strong and well-funded executive agencies capable of putting laws into practice. 


The water resources of Brazil are generally plentiful but unevenly distributed. Water is essential to the economy for hydropower generation, agriculture (both rain-fed and irrigated), domestic and industrial consumption, and river navigation, and one of two main issues is to reconcile the demands of these sectors.  Reconciliation is vital both for the nation’s economy and the well-being of Brazilian society, and has been achieved by consensus. 

The second issue arises from the fact that Brazil’s population is concentrated in rapidly-growing cities, often without adequate infra-structure for water supply, sanitary disposal, and protection against urban flooding and land-slides on steep slopes where there are irregular settlements. Pollution from both domestic and industrial waste, and from sediment and solid waste, is a serious problem in metropolitan areas. The approach has been to establish river basin committees, but there can be some conflict of interest between committees where rivers flow through several States. 

It was necessary to set up Legislation was passed to provide mechanisms for funding a National Water Agency - ANA which has worked well since its inception. However a serious problem at present is that government-imposed restrictions on public spending limit access to funds legally earmarked for water resources development and for training the professionals needed for IWRM.

Lessons learned

The main lesson learned from Brazilian experience is that the changes to water industry structure, and progress towards IWRM, have been achieved through non-partisan discussions between professionals, able to express views freely within a democracy that is approaching maturity.

Importance of the case for IWRM

The case of Brazil illustrates several aspects important for IWRM, namely: the need for unambiguous laws relating to water resource development and control; the need for strong and well-funded executive agencies capable of putting laws into practice; the need to charge for water as a public good; the need to involve other users, and the public at large, when decisions are taken; the need for basin-wide planning; the need to consult widely when decisions taken in upstream basins affect management of water resources in downstream areas.

Photo credit: Mike Vondran