Better Water Supply for Northeast Brazil

May 10, 2013


The Integration Canal, in the outskirts of Fortaleza. The project assures water supply during drought periods to the Fortaleza Metropolitan Region, with an estimated beneficiary population of 3.6 million.

Mariana Ceratti / World Bank

The state of Ceará in northeast Brazil has been improving rural and urban populations’ health, resilience and economic conditions since 2000, drawing upon Bank funding and expertise. It has one of the most robust water resources management systems in Brazil, considered a pioneer and example. This project benefited 3.9 million people with new and rehabilitated reservoirs; water conveyance facilities, guaranteeing drinkable water; increased agricultural production from irrigation; institutional reforms; and economic decentralization.


Most of the state of Ceará is in the semi-arid “sertão.” where mean rainfall is less than 800mm per year. However, rainfall variability is among the highest in the world, falling mostly in the first half of the year, while the second half is generally dry. Ceará is among the poorest in Brazil, as the semi-arid climate and its recurrent droughts traditionally allowed only precarious subsistence farming and extensive animal grazing. These conditions precipitated major outward migration. The rapid growth of the Fortaleza Metropolitan Region during the last 70 years was due in large part to this rural exodus.

Reservoirs were the traditional response to droughts for more than 100 years, but they were built and operated in an ad-hoc fashion. Until the early 1990s, storage was insufficient and managed inadequately, without integration within or between river basins, and water distribution was lacking.

In addition to the state’s low levels of human development, providing water to the increasing population of Fortaleza Metropolitan Region was a serious challenge. The adoption of new water management policies between 1987 and 1996, before the National Water Law (1997), helped make Ceará the pioneer of water resource management in Brazil.

The project is the third Bank-financed project to assist the state of Ceará in the implementation of modern policies, planning, and management tools to overcome the impact of recurrent droughts.


This project sought to:

  • Increase sustainable water supplies for multiple uses.
  • Improve efficiency of the integrated water resources management system.
  • Decrease vulnerability of poor populations to cyclical drought through improvements in the institutional, legal and administrative managerial frameworks with emphasis on participatory management mechanisms.
  • Rehabilitate and construct new hydraulic infrastructure aimed at the integrated management of river basins.
  • Develop and consolidate sustainable cost recovery, management, operation and maintenance of systems for hydraulic infrastructure.
  • Integrate environmental policies with water management policies.
  • Stimulate multiple uses, efficient and shared management of Ceará’s water resources through organization and strengthening of river basin committees and water user associations.
  • Implement and propagate more effective water use and management technologies, and education, information and training of the general public and water users aimed at efficient water use, demand management, and reduction of waste.
  • Promote improved management of soil and vegetation in tributary watersheds to enhance water conservation, minimize erosion and maximize natural water storage mechanisms.
  • Advance the adequate management of critical micro-basins and groundwater resources, through increasing vegetated area, and controlling run-off and erosion, developing aquifer management and recharge zone plans.

Mariana Ceratti / World Bank


The project supported improvements through several key outcomes:

  • Water supply. The project increased guaranteed water supply from 10,333.4 million m3 in 2000 to 1,692.7 million m3 in 2011, from eight reservoirs built by the project.
  • Water security. The project increased water for human consumption to the Fortaleza Metropolitan Region from 6.6 m3/sec in 2000 to 13.2 m3/sec in 2011 through three new reservoirs and a river basins integration canal. This ensures water security for the Fortaleza Metropolitan Region, which, during the project period, grew from about 1 million to 3.6 million inhabitants. Out of the current 3.6 million inhabitants, an estimated 6 to 10 percent are extremely poor.
  • Financial sustainability. The project improved operation and maintenance cost recovery and bulk water distributed by the state’s newly formed water company, from 70 percent of operations and management costs recovered and 6.9 m3/sec in 2000 to 100 percent of costs recovered and 17.5 m3/sec in 2011.
  • Innovative management. The project implemented new management tools and strengthened the state’s water resources management system via permits (from 2,000 permits in 2000 to over 5,000 granted in 2011), water tariff policies in all sectors, initiation and support of river basin committees in all 12 state river basins (with the creation of 9 new committees and 44 reservoir management commissions from 2000 to 2011), real-time data for reservoir operations and dam safety rules and procedures, and groundwater management plans.
  • Innovative and replicable micro watershed management. From 2000 to 2011, recovery of 523 hectares of degraded area, reforestation of 2,949 hectares, recovery and preservation of 1,803 hectares of riverine vegetation in four micro watersheds targeted by the micro watershed management pilot project within PROGERIRH.

Bank Group Contribution

The original Bank loan was for US$136 million. The Bank provided additional financing of US$103 million in 2009 to scale up the activities, bringing the total lending to US$239 million.


Bank financing was complemented with US$492.8 million of state counterpart funds, leading to a total project cost of US$730 million over the period of 2000 to 2011. In addition, the federal Government provided additional funds to complement the interventions in the water resources sector with construction of dams, pipelines and canals for water supply and irrigation.

Moving Forward

Over the past years, the state has become more aware of the water quality and sources of pollution in the reservoirs. More attention is being given by the Government to water quality issues, including through a more integrated planning of land and water use at the basin level and broader intersectoral coordination. The Ceará Government is also now working on the design of the Ceará Water Belt, a gravity-fed conveyance system of approximately 1,300 km length and flow rate of 30 m3/s, which is expected to cover 100 percent of water demands for human consumption, industry, tourism and irrigation by 2040.


The reservoirs built under the project benefited an estimated population of about 300,000 in rural areas. Poor rural communities were also benefited by the increase of vegetated area, and control of run-off and erosion in critical micro-basins. The urban population of the Fortaleza Metropolitan Region benefited with expanded and more reliable water supply. The project assures water supply during drought periods to the Fortaleza Metropolitan Region, with an estimated beneficiary population of 3.6 million, of which an estimated 6-10 percent are extremely poor.

reservoirs were built by the project