It’s Politics, Stupid! Urban Wastewater Collection and Treatment in Brazil

Katharina Stepping (German Development Institute (DIE))

Abstract: Insufficient wastewater collection and treatment prejudices both water bodies and public health in Brazil, where wastewater infrastructure has been severely underinvested for decades. This study analyzes the politico-economic context of urban wastewater infrastructure in Brazil, motivated by the dictum that “sewage does not win you an election”. The evidence is based on 50+ interviews with government officials, development banks, utility providers, private companies, environmental agencies and academia, conducted in Brasília, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte, Recife, and Salvador between October and December 2015. The results suggest that politicians prioritize other infrastructure investments and that voters do not express a strong preference for basic sanitation. On the one hand, the degree and intensity to which the population is exposed to the negative externalities caused by lacking basic sanitation varies greatly. On the other hand, other basic needs are not yet satisfied, particularly for poor people – those who suffer directly and most strongly from the lack of basic sanitation.