Principal Investigators: Brigitte Seim, Alicia Cooperman, Alexandra Richey
Country: Brazil

Dates of Intervention: September 2017 - June 2018

Background: We focus our study in Northeast Brazil, a semi-arid region that faces declining water availability from prolonged drought, municipal growth, and unsustainable use of existing water supplies. The study sites are rural communities in the drought-prone state of Ceará in Northeast Brazil. Although relatively poor, Ceará has long been considered a regional success with highly regarded bureaucratic reforms in the 1990s. However, water access varies greatly across communities, especially in terms of reliability, maintenance, water quality, and amount per person. Further, the Northeast region, and especially the state of Ceará, has experienced the worst drought in a century during 2012-2016. As emergency measures, the state water agencies installed over 3,000 wells in urban and rural areas during March 2015 - March 2017. Communities increasingly rely on groundwater. Based on interviews Co-PI Cooperman has conducted in 105 communities across Cear\'{a}, there are four primary barriers to community success in improving access to water sources and reducing over-use of water resources: 1) communities are unaware that water access in Brazil is a constitutional right; 2) communities are unaware that groundwater sources are not limitless and can dry up with over-use; 3) communities are unable to measure the water level of their wells or monitor groundwater use; and 4) communities lack information about best practices in water management systems.

Research Design: The unit of analysis is the community, which usually includes 10-200 households in a spatially distinct area. In most communities there is a cluster of small homes around a small town square with a church, school, and sometimes a communal water cistern. The study uses a “randomized control trial” methodology to evaluate these two programs in 120 communities across 10 randomly selected municipalities of Ceará. The two programs (treatment arms) will be: 1) Workshop about groundwater use where the community members will select a community water committee; Training of the community water committee to measure well levels, share weekly measurements on groundwater levels with research team and community members, and distribute monthly measurement summaries created by research team. (Common Arm) 2) Training of the community water committee to conduct monthly household visits to community members to discuss water use and make “water use plans” to encourage sustainable water use. (Alternative Arm) As Treatment 2 (T2) draws on the information collected and disseminated in Treatment 1 (T1), there will be three groups in this study: 1) Control; 2) T1; 3) T1 + T2

  1. Consistent and accessible community monitoring (information collection and dissemination) of groundwater use reduces its self-regulated overuse
  2. Peer-based persuasion and planning heightens the effects of community monitoring on self-regulation of overuse