In the Favela do Moinho, the last favela standing in central São Paulo, the water supply of around 2,500 residents hangs on a single, impossibly slender blue PVC pipe that runs beneath the dirt on the nameless main drag. The 300m pipeline, a few centimetres wide and buried just below the surface, carries water to the entire community from an illicit connection to the mains, created almost a decade ago by a sympathetic employee at Sabesp, the water board. Photo: Claire Rigby

By Claire Rigby
15 April 2015

São Paulo (The Guardian) – With water levels worryingly low in at least two of São Paulo’s largest reservoirs, insecurity around water has become a fact of life for most paulistanos – as has a newfound interest in self-reliance and thrift: in stored water, rainwater collection and reduced usage.

Yet for São Paulo’s poorest, water precarity and self-reliance have been a fact of life since long before this current crisis – often to an extreme degree. In the Favela do Moinho, the last favela standing in central São Paulo, the water supply of around 2,500 residents hangs on a single, impossibly slender blue PVC pipe that runs beneath the dirt on the nameless main drag. The 300m pipeline, a few centimetres wide and buried just below the surface, carries water to the entire community from an illicit connection to the mains, created almost a decade ago by a sympathetic employee at Sabesp, the water board.

“The supply is extremely precarious: we get very little water, all in all, and the families at the end of the pipe get none at all,” explains Alessandra Moja Cunha, coordinator of the favela’s residents’ association.

According to a declaration presented at the UN Human Rights Council by the Brazilian NGO Conectas in March, in the São Paulo water crisis it’s the poor who are most vulnerable. Even where formal supply networks have been established as part of favela urbanisation programmes, many of the city’s poorest residents live at the end of the distribution network, where water, when there are shortages, simply fails to reach. Many, including most Favela do Moinho residents, don’t have water tanks, making it all the more difficult to cope when the taps run dry – as they do, daily, for millions in the city, any time from 2pm onwards. […]

Even for those familiar with São Paulo’s favelas, the first sight of the flimsy, dilapidated shacks in the Favela do Moinho comes as a shock. The vast majority of homes here are no more than simple barracos, cobbled together from a patchwork of scrap wood and offcuts, MDF and plywood. Around 60% of the favela’s residents earn a living from collecting cardboard on the streets, and much of the construction material comes from their daily rounds, which fan outwards from the neighbourhood of Bom Retiro at one end and Campos Elíseos – São Paulo’s run-down ‘Champs Élysées’, with its itinerant, open-air crack zone known as Cracolândia – at the other.

Each household inside the favela makes its own connection to the community’s single, slim water pipe, drilling a hole, attaching an elbow joint and running another pipe or hose into their homes. Leaks are common. At the far end of the favela, where the homes are most precarious and where the water simply doesn’t reach, families come to collect water from a tap in the centre of the settlement. [more]

São Paulo's water crisis: in the Favela do Moinho, 2,500 residents rely on one impossibly thin blue pipe

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