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Results Briefs October 27, 2020

Improving Water Quality and Efficiency for Agricultural Irrigation in Brazil’s Sergipe River Basin


Sergipe Water Program, Brazil. Photo: Sergipe Government

Sergipe Government

Constructed between 2012 and 2020, a new water and wastewater system for Brazil’s Sergipe River system benefited approximately 460,000 people (237,000 women) with improved sanitation services and 290,000 people from improved water supply services. Investments contributed to significant reduction in the pollution load in the Sergipe River Basin. Modernized irrigation systems were implemented, benefiting almost 600 farmers, leading to less water and energy use and increased productivity.


Brazil faces crucial water resource challenges related to scarcity, pollution in urban conurbations without adequate wastewater collection and treatment services, and recurrent droughts and floods. The State of Sergipe is emblematic of these water challenges, as it struggles to confront its water problems in the context of rising urbanization, informality, water demand, and water pollution. Water scarcity combined with pollution and use conflicts were limiting factors for agriculture irrigation. In 2012, water available on Sergipe’s river basin, the most important water source in the state, required more efficient and sustainable management. Improvements were also needed in water irrigation methods and in water quality, which was greatly affected by raw wastewater discharged directly into the water body and uncollected solid waste carried to the river during floods. In addition to environmental needs, the State of Sergipe still faces difficulties providing its population with adequate access to water and sanitation services. In 2012, only 32 % of the state’s population had access to sanitation services, and 13 % of the population in both urban and rural areas did not have access to water supply services.


The Sergipe Water Project addressed the targeted challenges using an integrated urban water management approach to promote efficient, sustainable use of water in Sergipe River Basin (SRB), by investing in infrastructure, institutional strengthening, and service improvements. Investments by the Sergipe Water Supply and Sanitation Company (DESO) to increase sanitation and water supply access in the Metropolitan Region of Aracajú, Itabaiana, and Nossa Senhora das Dores and the drainage system implemented in Itabaiana aimed at improving the population’s quality of life as well as reducing pollution loads in and improving the water quality of the SRB. The project included activities to improve technical, institutional, and environmental sustainability of the irrigated perimeters of Jacarecica I and Poção da Ribeira. It also improved irrigation methods and soil use practices in these sub-basins to increase the efficiency and sustainability of water use for irrigation practices by using less water and less energy, balancing flows to serve irrigation and urban supply. 

Over 300 %

increase in the number of people in the target areas with access to improved sanitation services (from 102,000 to 460,000, of whom 52 % were women).


The Sergipe Water Project has supported activities leading to key outcomes in the water sector. Results achieved during the project’s implementation (2012–2020) included:

  • Over 300 % increase in the number of people in the target areas with access to improved sanitation services (from 102,000 to 460,000, of whom 52 % were women).
  • A reduction in the pollution load discharged into the Sergipe River by 5.544 tons of biochemical oxygen demand (BOD)/year due to a new collection network and treatment plant.
  • A 25 % increase in irrigation efficiency and reduced water waste and system losses, increasing pressure and flow at the end of the network; this amplified irrigated areas by 30 %, covering 832 hectares, and benefited 600 farmers with improved irrigation systems. Improved efficiency in water use, combined with automation, reduced energy costs by 47 %.
  • 1,000 rural producers and rural technical assistance agents were trained as replicators of technologies and soil and water conservation practices.
  • 266 hectares of protected areas in water supply reservoirs in the Sergipe River Basin were recovered.
  • Water body classifications and a registry of SRB water consumers were established to guide the state’s water management decision making.
  • A hydraulic model to improve water-use efficiency in the irrigation perimeters, to be implemented by the Water Resources and Irrigation Development Company (COHIDRO), was developed.
  • Integrated procedures and tools for environmental licensing and water rights were implemented.
  • Technical assistance and institutional strengthening activities for water resources, irrigation, and rural water supply and sanitation were implemented to ensure the sustainability of project improvements.

Bank Group Contribution

The World Bank, through the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), financed this project with a US$61.2 million loan toward total project expenses of US$108.12 million.


The commitment and collaboration of the State of Sergipe’s beneficiary and implementing agencies — the State Secretariat of Urban Development and Sustainability (SEDURBS), COHIDRO, the Sergipe Agricultural Development Company (EMDAGRO), and the DESO — were key to the results achieved. Complementing the IBRD investment were US$46.85 million in counterpart funds, which covered construction and expansion of wastewater systems in municipalities comprising the RMA. Most of the counterpart funds came from the Federal Government Growth Acceleration Program.


The population served by the new water, sanitation, and drainage systems implemented under the project were direct beneficiaries of these efforts. All agencies involved benefited from institutional strengthening and the Bank’s technical assistance. Tariffs for the uptake of water from the reservoirs and consumption of water in the irrigation perimeters also benefited COHIDRO and SERHMA. SEDURBS, the implementing agency, acquired knowledge in managing projects, and DESO increased service coverage, thus expanding its business and increasing revenue.

Moving Forward

Addressing the State of Sergipe’s water sector challenges remains a high priority for the Brazilian government. Continued investments are needed to complement activities begun under the project, as well as to expand project benefits to other areas of Sergipe. DESO remains committed to increasing the state’s water supply and sanitation services coverage, either using its own resources or through external financing opportunities. The hydraulic model developed under the project for the efficient operation of irrigated perimeters to increase resilience during drought seasons will gradually be expanded by COHIDRO to improve water resource management for multiple uses. On the institutional side, the project supported the definition of a new institutional model to improve the state’s water resources management. A gradual approach to its implementation will be key over the next years.