By Andréa Mesquita
Rain was a headache in Amajari, in the north of Roraima. Rain puddles, mud and soggy land were common, which made it difficult for people to move around and made it even more difficult for rain water to run off. As the area is plain and rains are intense and frequent in the region, the land is typically swampy. The situation is even worse when household pits overflow due to soil saturation. This is a real nightmare, since the municipality does not have sanitation services.
However, in a small town with just over 13,000 inhabitants along the border with Venezuela, the situation has changed.
With the help of the Support Project for the National Agenda for Sustainable Urban Development in Brazil (ANDUS), Nature-Based Solutions (NBS) were sought to address land drainage and provide a cost-effective and sustainable sanitation sanitation to the municipality.
Amajari decided to adopt three NBS: a bioseptic tank, at the local government main office; three rain gardens, also at the main office; and a composting site at a municipal school in Vila do Tepequém.
Núbia Lima, mayor of Amajari, believes that “this project will not only be replicated at the local government main office, but at our municipal school and our local departments, and it will be an important step to inspire the whole community to embrace bioseptic tanks in their homes as well.”
The rain gardens were put in place to address the rainwater drainage system of the building where the land got flooded too easily. On average, 50 people go to the main office building daily and benefit either directly or indirectly from this measure.
In collaboration with the State Government, the Federal Institute – which even has a campus in Amajari –, the federal and state universities of Roraima, the National Health Foundation (Funasa), and the Municipal Tourism Foundation, the ANDUS team provided mentoring and training sessions where the personnel learned how to change their household pits to bioseptic tanks, and thus reduce the number of existing pits, both in public areas and in institutions and communities.
In Brazil, four out of ten municipalities lack sanitation services. Amajari reflects this statistic. According to data from the National Basic Sanitation Survey (PNSB), prepared by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), about 39.7% of Brazilian municipalities lack sanitation. The survey also shows that these services are unevenly distributed across the country’s major regions. While in the Southeast more than 90% of municipalities have had this service since 1989, in the North this stood at only 16.2% in 2017.
“Today, we have a sanitation solution that will continue to serve families individually and will ensure sustainability. The community is now aware that there is a way to solve the issue while the local government itself, alongside its partners, is considering ways to transform this into public policies through a viable and innovative pilot project, which will serve as a tailored model for development in Amajari, which in fact will suit the needs of various municipalities in Roraima,” says Cristiane Hellen Sousa, technical advisor to the Amajari local government.
The bioseptic tank or “banana tree tank,” as it is called, is a closed system for treating black water – the water used to flush conventional toilets. This system won’t generate any effluents and prevents soil, surface water and groundwater pollution. In it, human waste is transformed into nutrients for plants, and the water will only come out by evaporation, so it is completely clean.
With a traditional sanitation system, most municipalities are unable to properly dispose of their collected waste, which makes sanitation costly and makes it difficult to find an effective solution to the issue.
“People come to the main office to learn about our pit model and see the banana trees in place, and we explain what the implementation process is all about and how it works. We promote it heavily within the municipality so that people can implement it in their communities at a lower cost,” says advisor Cristiane Sousa.
According to Cristiane, “the first impact of these solutions is innovation. The entire community and even several scholars from the Federal Institute who were participating in the process with us became aware of a technology that until then had not been used in the state. The composting process was already known and it was used by several communities. Now the rain garden and the bioseptic tank really were innovations that reached the community.”
Today, the Municipality of Amajari takes into consideration the Social Development Goals (SDG) and Nature-Based Solutions (NBS) when designing its public policies. “We are trying to incorporate the discussion of the 2030 Agenda SDGs into the planning process, and we know that we have a long way to go in terms of training, raising awareness among officials and communities, leaders and other partners for the preparation of the pilot project,” says Cristiane Sousa.
Antônio Zayek, a consultant for the ANDUS project and in charge of mentoring efforts, is quite excited about it: “We’ve leveraged the environmental intelligence of the municipality by empowering officials and members of the community, who are now able to solve their sanitation issues based on an understanding of the ecosystem where the sanitation system is based. That’s quite an achievement!”
The municipal regulations for the municipality to fund this improvement in households will make it possible to find ways to raise funds for septic tanks.
Alto Alegre, a neighboring municipality with more than 15,000 inhabitants, has a similar structure and is faced with the same sanitation issues as Amajari. To solve them, a bioseptic tank was built at the Recanto de Davi Therapeutic Center (CTRD) with support from the ANDUS project. CTRD is a philanthropic institution that has been operating for five years in the care of drug abuse patients while helping them integrate back into society in Roraima.
Wanderley Maia is in charge of earthworks and other works, and says that every month he spends BRL 1,000 to drain the existing cesspool in Recanto de Davi, which is home to around 50 people. “Today, we have a septic tank and banana trees that are already in bloom. Joining this project was a blessing! Wherever I go, I feel like implementing this project, which is very good,” says Wanderley.
Twelve cities from all regions of the country and a consortium with 11 municipalities from São Paulo started a mentoring and training program in sustainable urban development like the one in Amajari.
The ANDUS Project is a joint initiative by the Ministry of Cities (MCid) and the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (MMA) and the German Government to support urban planning in Brazilian municipalities through GIZ Brasil.
For more information, check out the ANDUS Project website.
Project: Support for the National Agenda for Sustainable Urban Development in Brazil
Partners: Ministry of Cities (MCid), Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (MMA)
Funding Partner: Federal Ministry of Economics and Climate Action (BMWK, in the German acronym) as part of the International Climate Initiative (IKI)