Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The Social Impact of Technology and Mega-infrastructures to Mitigate Drought: A Case Study of Changes in Social Capital Associated with the São Francisco Inter-basin Water Transfer in the Semiarid Region of Brazil
by Lopes Ribeiro, Flavio, Ph.D., University of Delaware, 2019, 271; 13883152
Abstract (Summary)

Droughts affect more people in Brazil than any other hazard. To mitigate the impacts of drought on the most vulnerable population of the country, the federal government invested $2,5 billion in the São Francisco Inter-Basin Water Transfer (SFIWT). Inter-basin water transfer is a common strategy to increase water availability in arid and semiarid regions of the world. It consists on transporting water from a river basin with water availability to another with water shortage. While these mega-infrastructures can increase the amount of freshwater in dry areas, they can also cause unforeseen social, economic, and environmental changes, sometimes with catastrophic results. Nevertheless, the social impact of inter-basin water transfers is still an understudied area.

To fill this gap, this research uses a combination of quantitative and qualitative research methods to measure the impact of the SFIWT in the social capital of the driest region of Brazil, known as the Cariri. Social capital was selected for presenting the potential to reveal changes in the social dynamics and, at the same time, in the local capacity to cope with droughts. Evidence from different disasters has shown that social capital is a vital part of community efforts to mitigate, prepare, respond, and recover from disasters.

In the Cariri, a contextual analysis revealed that social capital played an important role in accessing and controlling local natural resources, including water from the SFIWT. The control over local natural resources was historically gained through social capital and nowadays is maintained by social and political relationship to increase profits and political influence.

Interviews, survey, field observation, and document analysis also revealed significant changes in bonding and bridging types of social capital due to the SFIWT among the most vulnerable population. These changes were impelled by variances in local engagement with groups and networks; levels of trust in the community; collective actions; information and communication; social cohesion and inclusion; and subjective well-being; all of them important dimensions of social capital.

However, considering the extremely vulnerable context, most of these changes have a limited role in eliminating local vulnerabilities and offering pathways to long-term drought solutions. Most changes in local level social capital were detected in bonding type of social capital, which does not help the most vulnerable population to access water. Bridging type of social capital has also shown a tendency to increase in the region, but not enough to increase local capacity to cope with drought. There was no evidence of significant change in linking type of social capital, meaning that the relationship with politicians and people in position of power, who could offer better solutions to water scarcity in the region, remains unchanged.

In summary, this research reveals that adding water into a social structure where one social group has historical control over water resources is insufficient to help the most vulnerable populations to overcome water shortages and mitigate the impacts of drought. Therefore, drought mitigation strategies in the semiarid region of Brazil should not be limited to just adding water into the social system, as the SFIWT did, but also enhancing legal instruments to assure the inclusion of the most vulnerable population in the decision-making process of how local water resources will be managed, increasing the chances of a fair water-distribution in the region.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Kendra, James M.
Commitee: Wachtendorf, Tricia, Trainor, Joseph, Barbosa, Marx Prestes
School: University of Delaware
Department: Disaster Science and Management
School Location: United States -- Delaware
Source: DAI-A 81/2(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Social research, Sociology, Water Resources Management
Keywords: Brazil, Drought, Inter-basin water transfer, Mega-infrastructure, Mitigation, Social capital
Publication Number: 13883152
ISBN: 9781085729147
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