For a long time, there was a legend. They believed and repeated that drought would be an irreversible destiny for the Brazilian caatinga (a name that means “white forest” in Tupi-Guarani). The dry climate, strong sun and spiny Mandacaru cactus often come to mind first when we talk about the Brazilian Northeastern region. But much has changed in that scenario.
Mrs Maria Margarida Souza knows that transformation from the inside. With a friendliness that matches her flowery name, the farmer has lived in the community of Alecrim, in the Morro do Chapéu municipality of Bahia, for 40 years with her husband. “We came here, planted coffee, plodded along and God blessed us to remain here to this day. Fighting in the farmstead for life. I never worked in another profession.” Mrs Maria Margarida is marked by much effort, especially with regards to clean water, which has always been a scarce resource in the distant settlement where she lives, around 30km away from the city and with access limited to dirt roads and cattle grids: “We humiliated ourselves to these people asking for a glass of water. Coming from afar with a bucket on our heads, that’s how it was. It was God who brought this miracle to our lives. Now we are very happy.”
The “miracle” Mrs Maria Margarida refers to was getting a water reutilisation cistern for rainwater at home, through the Enel Shares Infrastructure programme. When the project was created, in April 2018, many of the region’s families consumed dirty and even salt water – which caused high blood pressure in many residents. The project selection contemplated 105 houses that received a cistern in Morro do Chapéu.
The system comprises a reservoir placed just under the house’s roof, redirecting the rainwater – which falls in small doses during the year in the region – to an internal filter for an initial treatment. After that, the water passes through a white PVC pipe measuring around seven metres and falls, already cleaner, in the cistern, a large white reservoir made of concrete plates. The white colour also has a reason: it reflects sunlight, lowering the internal temperature by about two degrees. Finally, an easy-to-use manual pump helps with the withdrawal of water from the location. The water from the reservoir goes through a hose, followed by a final filter and reaches the tap.
Each cistern is able to hold 16,000 litres of water, enough volume to supply a family of five (to drink, cook, prepare food and brush teeth) for eight months without rain. Covering the reservoirs is essential so the water does not evaporate and remains clean, clear of animals, leaves, insects and soil.
“The water is the main thing. Without water, a person cannot survive, can’t wash, have a shower, cook. If you don’t have water, you have nothing in life. Water is life,” defines Mrs Maria Margarida.
Fish that you don’t fish
The residents benefitting from cisterns learn how to treat, maintain and withdraw the waater – important learnings so the benefits last a long time. Mr Julio Barreto, resident of the Santa Cruz community (Morro do Chapéu/BA), lived a reality of over 20 years consuming the rainwater accumulated in a round well located next to his farmstead house, without cover or adequated treatment.
The coffee farmer used an ineffective technique to make the water he had more drinkable: “The water used to be really bad. I had to add bleach or put a fish in the water to clean it. Then I picked it up, boiled it and put it in the filter, but the water was bad because too much fell into it. It had a bad taste, and the smell was also unpleasant. Now, it has improved a lot after Enel’s tank because the water is treated, the tank is covered, there is no problem with dirt.”
Mr Julio and the other 104 families from Morro do Chapéu celebrate the arrival of the cisterns in their homes, because they have brought not only drinkable water to drink and cook with. The new system brought more health, peace of mind and transformed these people’s realities, leaving the experiences with the old water in the past, just as stories to tell.