Written by Adriana de Aguinaga, PPIAF Program Manager
The Brazilian city of Manaus flourished at the heart of the Amazon region in the 19th century; beautiful buildings such as the Palace of Rio Negro, the Palace of Rio Branco, and the famous Amazonas Theatre were built to showcase the city’s wealth, derived from the exploitation of rubber.
After the decline of the local rubber industry, which moved to Asia in the 20th century, the local economy prospered and the city grew into an important industrial pole in response to the establishment of a duty free zone, creating employment opportunities for the local population and for those migrating from various parts of the country. Since 1970, the city’s population has grown from 300,000 to over 2 million inhabitants. Many of those who arrived in Manaus, lacking a place to live, squatted on empty lots and built palafitas—wooden shacks that sit on stilts. They line the borders of numerous igarapés—streams—that run through the center of this beautiful city and stem from the Negro River, which encounters and joins the Solimões River upstream to form the Amazonas River. The palafitas lack electricity, running water, and sewerage, and the water that runs through the igarapés has become very polluted from the solid and liquid waste continuously dumped into it.
By 2003 the city of Manaus faced important urban challenges as a result of rapid population growth, unplanned city growth, and a lack of investment in sanitation infrastructure. The local government estimated that there were over 580,000 inhabitants in 33 igarapés in the southeastern part of the city. During the rainy season that lasts from November to April, more than 21,000 families were at risk every year as the dark, polluted water of the Negro River rose up to 3 meters, damaging, flooding, or destroying palafitas and resulting in the loss of lives and property.
In 2003 the government of the State of Amazonas, of which Manaus is the capital, decided to take action to improve the living conditions of the inhabitants of the igarapés and bring back the splendor of the city of Manaus. The government began preparing an Integrated Urban Plan for the city that included engineering, environment, urbanization, housing, social, and institutional action. This plan was conceived not as a transitory measure, but rather as a permanent measure involving the removal and resettlement of families from risky areas, the cleanup of numerous streams, the construction of a drainage network, the construction of new social housing, and the construction of sewerage systems to provide sanitation services. The PROSAMIM or Program for the Environmental Sanitation of the City of Manaus (Programa de Saneamento Ambiental dos Igarapés de Manaus) was created in 2005.
Funded by the public sector, with loans from multilateral financial institutions, PROSAMIM began operations in 2005. By the summer of 2010, approximately 7,000 families have been resettled, 1,300 of which now reside in new homes built directly by the Program, and more than 9,000 additional families will follow. Drainage works, sewerage connections, and waste treatment systems have been built, in addition to new roads, wide avenues, bridges, sports fields, urban parks, and recreation areas in the downtown area of Manaus. The city is progressively recuperating its beauty and charm.
Although PROSAMIM is funded mainly through public sector loans and originated as a public sector initiative, it incorporates elements from public-private partnerships. Water and sewerage connections built for new homes are handed over to a private company that operates the sewerage system and collects water and sewerage payments from its customers. After the private operator is reimbursed for the costs of operating the system, any excess funds are used to reimburse the long-term financing received by PROSAMIM from multilateral financial institutions and to build new sewerage connections for low-income families.
The PROSAMIM has brought numerous benefits to the population of Manaus. Inhabitants have received new housing, in some cases with the possibility of establishing small shops or other businesses on the ground floor; new recreation areas; improved health, with sewerage connections and running water resulting in the reduction of diseases; electricity; improved safety, as houses are built on solid land; reduced levels of crime; an official address; and dignified living conditions.
*Disclaimer: this article reflects the opinion of its author and not necessarily that of PPIAF or any other organization.