Cisternas, do Brasil para o mundo

Around 450 thousand Brazilian families still do not have access to water. The Cistern program has been funded by the Brazilian government since 2003 and is only serving a small group of people due to insufficient resources.

The program provides funding for installing cisterns, a social technology for capturing and storing rainwater. Cisterns provide a simple, yet effective solution to hydric (water) resources to the low-income rural population, who suffer from the effects of prolonged draughts or the absence of routine access to a water supply. 

Cisterns cost range from R$ 2,500 to R$ 3,000 and utilize roof surfaces to collect rainwater and then store the collected water. A full cistern is enough to supply a family of four people access to water for eight months. 


ASA was one of the entities of the cooperative civil initiatives to pioneer the use of cisterns in the northeastern arid regions of Brazil. It is composed of over three thousand organizations, such as rural labor unions, agricultural associations, and cooperatives, and NGOs. ASA is present and focuses its efforts in the region of 10 semiarid Brazilian states prioritized by this program.  

Half of the nine states are in the northeastern region of Brazil, where 85% of their areas are characterized as semiarid. 

ATLANTICO spoke to Rafael Neves, the coordinator of the “Articulação Semiárido Brasileiro” (Brazilian Semiarid Articulation) (ASA) about the programs for installing A Million Rural Cisterns and School Cisterns. He spoke about what the program is like nowadays and what are its next challenges. He also spoke about the exchange program for implementing the program in other countries. 

What is the program like currently? 

The program is minimally in effect. It is not being utilized in all the Brazilian semiarid states, and it is focused on the remaining “quilombos” (marooned communities). It is a resource that the technicians of the cistern program and the government sector that is currently linked to the Citizenship Ministry, was able to capture. And this resource is being executed on a very small scale, far from meeting the required demand, around 450 thousand families who do not have access to water, who cannot afford this, and who fit the required profile. 

The target for the Cistern program is to build 1 million cisterns. That goal was reached in 2014. But there is still so much to be done. 

What are the next steps of the program?

The next step is to continue serving these needy people and assuring that universalization has been defined as the objective of the Brazilian government, as part of the “Brasil Sem Miséria” (Brazil Without Extreme Poverty) program and the “Água Para Todos” (Water for Everyone) program for the purpose of serving all these families.  There are few resources foreseen for this government sector that nowadays is considered public policy. However, very few resources are planned to continue this action. 

ASA even created this program for the government and it has been even neglected by the government to carry out the cistern program. We do not have full confidence in the goodwill of the political focus from the current government regarding this. I would say it is a political point-of-view because we have proven capability and quality in what we do regarding the technical and financial perspectives.   

Rafael Neves
Rafael Neves

What results have been achieved up to now?

We have already reached over 1 million families and have mobilized and enabled over 600 thousand families. The federal government at that time contracted other partners and quite often even ASA organizations to jointly execute with state governments to install them in the remaining families. And those results have achieved clear-cut benefits. Some research studies pin-pointed a 60% reduction in infant mortality, 80% reduction in diarrheal diseases, and increased the lifetime of women, who generally perform the job of seeking water supplies for their families wherever they may be. Then women will have more time to perform other tasks and generate income for their families from other sources. 

In August 2017, The program won second place at the Future Policy Award event, promoted by the World Future Council non-profit organization. 

Has ASA participated in any articulation to help other countries to do something similar? 

ASA has been sought by some bodies – especially FAO, but also IFAD, all connected to the UN – to share some of its experiences with other countries.  I would say to exchange them as there is so much to learn from other semiarid regions or similar to semiarid ecosystem regions, which suffer from water scarcity. This experience is not only related to cisterns but to the experience of managing public resource administration, building a partnership with the Government and as a result provides great benefits to the entire population. We have made a partnership between the Civil Society and the Government, and that may be unique in the world.  

All these experiences are being shared with some countries in Africa, but specifically with the Sahel region. We have also shared ideas with the Central America dry corridor region, such as El Salvador, Guatemala, and some regions in South America, mainly including Bolivia, Argentina, and part of Paraguay, where there is also a semiarid region.  

We have entered into some partnerships, exchanged and shared some experiences, promoted some cistern building workshops in these countries to test the technology and to know where it is effectively employed. In Argentina, on another scale, the government created a program named “Sede Zero” (Zero Thirst), and they have built and implemented some areas with cisterns.