Barriers to climate adaptation in urban areas: The case of water crisis in the Metropolitan Region of São Paulo

Main Article Content

Ana Helena Palermo Kuss


This study analyzes the current water crisis in in the Metropolitan Region of São Paulo. The study is based on a diagnosis of the main barriers that impeded government and other stakeholders at different governance levels to guarantee a secure water provision. The objective is to discuss why there was a lack of preparation of this region to the occurring of a prolonged drought and to identify which adaptation barriers contributed to this problem. The analysis is the result of an in-depth explanatory case study and field research, which has as its primary evidence a set of twelve semi-structured interviews made in the studied region in March and April 2015. Further evidence was extracted from newspaper articles, government reports, and scientific publications. The key reference of this study is the literature on barriers to adaptation to climate change. Ostrom’s (2009) Social-Ecological Systems (SES) framework provides the analytical framework used to analyze the collected data and Garrick et al. (2013), the diagnostic assessment. The results comprehend nine barriers that contributed to the water crisis. The paper shows how the misrepresentation of the interests of the population in having a secure water provision and the risky behavior of water managers influenced the crisis. It will be argued that the lack of specific governance mechanisms and the political power concentration, which characterizes the actual governance system, are central in the explanation of the ongoing crisis.

Article Details

How to Cite
Palermo Kuss, A. H. (2017). Barriers to climate adaptation in urban areas: The case of water crisis in the Metropolitan Region of São Paulo. Brasiliana - Journal for Brazilian Studies, 5(2), 76-107.
Author Biography

Ana Helena Palermo Kuss, University of Freiburg

Department of Economic Policy and Constitutional Economic Theory


ANA .2013. Conjuntura dos recursos hídricos no Brasil. Agência Nacional das Águas (Brasil). Biesbroek, G. R., J. E. M. Lostermann, C. J. A. M. Termeer, and P. Kabat .2013. On the nature of barriers to climate change adaptation. Regional Environmental Change 13(5):1119-1129. doi: 10.1007/s10113-013-0421-y Braga, B., R. Flecha, D. S. Pena and J. Kelman. 2008. Pacto federativo e gestão de águas. Estudos Avançados 22(63):17-42. DOI: 10.1590/S0103-40142008000200003 Brasil. 1997. Lei nº 9.433, de 8 de janeiro de 1997. Da Política Nacional de Recursos Hídricos. Available at: (Accessed October 28, 2016). ______. 2000. Lei nº 9.984, de 17 de julho de 2000. Dispõe sobre a criação da Agência Nacional de Águas - ANA. Available at: (Accessed October 28, 2016). Campos, V. N. O. and A. P. Fracalanza .2010. Governança das águas no Brasil: conflitos pela apropriação da água e a busca da integração como consenso. Ambiente & Sociedade Campinas 13 (2):365-382. doi: 10.1590/S1414-753X2010000200010 Eisenack, K. and R. Stecker. 2012. A Framework for Analysing Climate Change Adaptations as Actions. Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change 17(3):243-260. doi: 10.1007/s11027-011-9323-9 Eisenack, K., S. Moser, E. Hoffmann, R. Klein, C. Oberlack, A. Pechan, M. Rotter, and C. Termeer. 2014. Explaining and overcoming barriers to climate change adaptation. Nature Climate Change 4:867-872. doi:10.1038/nclimate2350 Ekstrom, J. A. and S. C. Moser. 2012. Identifying and overcoming barriers in urban adaptation efforts to climate change: case study findings from the San Francisco Bay Area, California, USA. Urban Climate 9 (September): 54-74. doi: Engle, N.L. and M.C. Lemos. 2010. Unpacking governance: Building adaptive capacity to climate change of river basins in Brazil. Global Environmental Change 20:4–13. doi: FUSP. 2009. Plano da Bacia Hidrográfica do Alto Tietê. Relatório Final. Volume 1 e 2. Fundação de Apoio à Universidade de São Paulo (FUSP). Garrick, D., L. De Stefano L, F. Fung, J. Pittock, E. Schlager, M. New, and D. Connell. 2013. Managing hydroclimatic risks in federal rivers: a diagnostic assessment. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A371: 20120415. doi: 10.1098/rsta.2012.0415 Gläser, J. and G. Laudel. 2006. Experteninterviews und qualitative Inhaltsanalyse [Expert Interviews and Qualitative Content Analysis]. Wiesbaden, Germany: Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften. Grey, D., C.W. Sadoff. 2007. Sink or Swim? Water security for growth and development. Water Policy 9:545–571. doi: 10.2166/wp.2007.021 Grey, D., D. Garrick, D.Blackmore , J. Kelman, M. Muller, and C. Sadoff .2013. Water security in one blue planet: twenty-first century policy challenges for science. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, A371: 20120406. doi: 10.1098/rsta.2012.0406 Herrfahrdt-Pähle, E. 2014. Applying the concept of fit to water governance reforms in South Africa. Ecology and Society 19(1):25. doi: Horlemann, L. and I. Dombrowsky. 2015. Institutionalising IWRM in developing and transition countries: the case of Mongolia. Environmental Earth Sciences 65:1547. doi:10.1007/s12665-011-1213-7 Jacobi, P. R., M. G. A. da Paz , R. D. Leão, and L. M.B. Estancione. 2013. Water governance and natural disasters in the Metropolitan Region of São Paulo, Brazil. International Journal of Urban Sustainable Development 5(1):77-88. doi: Johnsson, R. M. F. and K. E. Kemper. 2005. Institutional and Policy Analysis of River Basin Management. The Alto-Tietê River Basin, São Paulo, Brazil. World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 3650, June 2005. doi: Klein, R. J. T. and S. Juhola. 2014. A framework for Nordic actor-centered adaptation research. Environmental Science & Policy 40:101-115. doi: Lehmann, P., M. Brenck, O. Gebhardt, S. Schaller, and E. Süßbauer. 2013. Barriers and opportunities for urban adaptation planning: analytical framework and evidence from cities in Latin America and Germany. Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change 20:75-97. doi: 10.1007/s11027-013-9480-0 Macrometropole Plan. 2013. Copabre. Plano Diretor de Aproveitamento de Recursos Hídricos para a Macrometrópole Paulista, no Estado de São Paulo. Relatório Final. Volumes I e II. Martin-Ortega, J. and A. Markandya. 2009. The costs of drought: the exceptional 2007-2008 case of Barcelona. BC3 Working Paper Series 2009-09. Basque Centre for Climate Change (BC3). Bilbao, Spain. McGinnis, M. D. and E. Ostrom. 2014.Social-ecological system framework: initial changes and continuing challenges. Ecology and Society 19(2): 30. doi: Murtinho, F. 2016. What facilitates adaptation? An analysis of community-based adaptation to environmental change in the Andes. International Journal of the Commons 10(1):119–141. doi: Nagendra, H. and E. Ostrom. 2014.Applying the social-ecological system framework to the diagnosis of urban lake commons in Bangalore, India. Ecology and Society 19(2):67. doi: Oberlack, C. 2014. Institutional Diagnostics of Climate Adaptation. Constitutional Economics Network Working Paper Series. ISSN No. 2193-7214. CEN Paper n° 01-2014. Oberlack, C., P. L. Walter, J. Schmerbeck, and B.K. Tiwari. 2015. Institutions for Sustainable Governance of Forests: Equity, Robustness and Cross-level Interactions in Mawlyngbna, Meghalaya, India. International Journal of the Commons 9(2):670–697. doi: Ostrom, E. 2005. Understanding institutional diversity. Princeton, NY, USA: Princeton University Press. ______. 2009. A General Framework for Analyzing Sustainability of Social-Ecological Systems. Science 325:419-422. doi: 10.1126/science.1172133 Porto, M. 2003. Recursos Hídricos e Saneamento na Região Metropolitana de São Paulo: Um desafio do tamanho da cidade. Agua Brasil series ; no. 3. Brazil Water Resources. Washington DC : World Bank Group. Ribeiro, W.C. 2011. Oferta e estresse hídrico na região Metropolitana de São Paulo. Estudos Avançados 25 (71):119-133. doi: Rodrigues, F.A. 2007. (In)eficácia do modelo brasileiro de gestão de recursos hídricos: a experiência da RMSP. Instituto de Geociências, pós-graduação Geociências. Campinas, São Paulo, Brazil, 369. São Paulo. 2004. Secretaria de Estado de Energia, Recursos Hídricos e Saneamento. Departamento de Águas e Energia Elétrica (DAEE). Portaria DAEE nº. 1213, de 06 de Agosto de 2004. Outorgada à Companhia de Saneamento Básico do estado de São Paulo – SABESP. ______. 2013. Secretaria de Estado de Energia, Recursos Hídricos e Saneamento. Departamento de Águas e Energia Elétrica (DAEE). Renovação da Outorga do Sistema Cantareira 2014. Oficio DAEE/SUP/0965/2013, de 24.07.2013. Villamayor-Tomas, S., F. D. Fleischman, I. P. Ibarra, A. Thiel and F. van Laerhoven. 2014. From Sandoz to Salmon: Conceptualizing resource and institutional dynamics in the Rhine watershed through the SES framework. International Journal of the Commons 8(2):361–395. doi: Villamayor-Tomas, S., M. Avagyan, M. Firlus, G. Helbing, and M. Kabakova. 2016. Hydropower vs. fisheries conservation: a test of institutional design principles for common-pool resource management in the lower Mekong basin social-ecological system. Ecology and Society 21(1):3. doi: Wang, X., Z. Jian-yun, S. Shahid, X. Xing-hui, H. Rui-min, and S. Man-ting. 2014. Catastrophe theory to assess water security and adaptation strategy in the context of environmental change. Mitigation Adaptation Strategy Global Change 19:463–477.doi:10.1007/s11027-012-9443-x Yin, R. K. 2009. Case Study Research. Design and Methods. Thousand Oaks, California, USA: Sage Publications. 3rd edition. Internet sources: AGB -Associação dos Geógrafos Brasileiros-Campinas. “Crise hídrica, uma crise política“, last modified October 23, 2014, accessed October 25, 2016, Aith, M. “O apagão de fatos”, Folha de São Paulo, January 01, 2015, Folha de São Paulo . “SP só atende demanda de água até 2010”, Folha de São Paulo, October 12, 2003, Folha de São Paulo .“Corte no abastecimento de água atinge 60% dos paulistanos, diz Datafolha.” October 20, 2014, Leite, F. “Sabesp poderia ter evitado uso do volume morto do Cantareira”, O Estado de S. Paulo, May 07, 2015,,sabesp-poderia-ter-evitado-uso-do-volume-morto-do-cantareira,1682611. Mercuri, C. “O colapso da água em São Paulo”, Revista Forum, May 16, 2014, Rodrigues, A. and F. Lobel.“Oito indústrias de SP têm o dobro da água de toda a cidade de Campinas“, May 05, 2015, Spresso SP. “SP: por trás da falta d’água, privatização e ganância“,October 29, 2014, Valor Econômico. “Funcionários da Sabesp aceitam suspender greve até dia 23”, March 16, 2015, APU-Associação dos Profissionais Universitários da Sabesp et al. “Proposta para a nova gestão da Sabesp”, January, 2015, accessed October 28, 2016, Sabesp. “Indicadores Financeiros”, accessed October 28, 2016, Sabesp. “Situação dos Mananciais”, accessed October 26, 2016, Atlas ANA . 2010. "Região Metropolitana de São Paulo", accessed October 26, 2016,