Future of water in Brasilia

by Denise Augustinho, University of Brasilia (UnB)

My research initially focused on the perception of water resource managers about the future of water in Federal District (DF), but I realized that there were many missing actors in this complex network. Actors who really hold power are not open to dialogue, neither to this research, as well, actors without representation such as those of nature, armadillos, rivers, etc., also not embraced. The game Politics of Nature (PoN) is a possibility to contemplate these missing actors. In our experience of playing the PoN were these two groups the most represented.

On December 3, 2018 we played the PoN, we did 3 simultaneous tables, 3 different themes: (i) The future of water in the DF, (ii) Climatic resilience in Brasilia and (iii)

Perspectives of the relationship between education, art and technology in DF. It was exciting to see so many amazing people taking their time for this social experience that succeeds in including the missing actors in the analysis of the controversies and seeks a consent among all the actors involved.

At the table on the future of water in the Federal District, it was beautiful to see how the Flying Rivers (wet air masses coming from the Amazon) dialogued with the superficial rivers, and these with the Cerrado who demanded recognition of its ecosystem services rendered … How to Terracap (the local land owner and manager company also speculator) and land grabbers harassed the small farmers… the potential that the bathers have in speaking by the sources since they have the contact by the pleasure with the elemento… New actors were¬†made visible, the relations between them described and were able to construct collectively proposals consented by all.

The proposed controversy over the future of water in the Federal District was, to a large extent, equating the occupation of the territory with the capacity to supply its population with the resources necessary for its existence – notably the most fundamental of them, water – is now an issue and what we are doing today is writing the future of the capital.

The retro-futuristic aesthetic (style of the festival’s inspiration) tells me a lot about these moments of ecological-economic inflection as we are living. There are water crises in the world – which are nothing more than economic ambition moving beyond the limits of what the ecosystem can provide. In Brazil, we see this happening in S√£o Paulo, Brasilia, Campina Grande … But we see extreme cases like Cape Town that no longer comes water in the taps on several days in the week.

And politically, Brazil lives this nameless conservative ebb. In Brasilia, in the same way, we have witnessed the advance of economic forces on the territory with a very great speed in the last years, in the last decade (in which I follow this process). But that was always the velocity of the modernist city.

Over time, Brasília and the surrounding area have consolidated themselves as an important migratory attractor, which has welcomed and had an important contribution in its construction of climate refugees such as the northeastern drought flagellates and it is difficult to speak of vetoing the arrival of more people, this controversy is very significant. Our first water plan, PLANIDRO, with a strong hygienic bias, previewed a sanitary cord around the Paranoá basin that tried to prevent heavier occupation.

Brasília was created in this modernist zeal based on two axes (road and monumental axes) and was intended to be a zero mark where the new capital would be built from nothing. A zero mark that would erase the tradition and the past in the Central Plateau of Brasil, erasing several important actors for our Politics of Nature. Other ancestor paths and toponymies, however, would remain as testimony of other times, such as the royal road previously opened by the indigenous people of Goyazes, Tapuya… or the archaeological sites that were only to be recognized recently.

We also have iconic personalities of the indigenous and quilombola (ex-slaves) contribution in the construction of Brasilia, as the Indian called Juscelino (grandfather of the Santxi√™ paj√©, leadership of the indigenous Sanctuary of the Paj√©s in the resistance against the Northwest Sector, a luxe housing enterprise) who came to work on the Bananal farm and stayed during the construction of Bras√≠lia, and the quilombola Sinfr√īnio Lisboa da Costa (from Quilombo Mesquita recognized as a important personality in 2015), but, ironically the quilombo suffers today with the threat of real estate project that has an ex-president of Brasil as partner.

What future awaits us if we continue to expropriate the whole network of humans and nonhumans constituted in the territory (human populations historically constituted in the territory, trees of the Cerrados with their deep roots, fungi, etc.) to replicate more and more concrete boxes, to continue waterproofing the soil more and more … What future awaits our water bodies?

Parano√° Lake, which receives treated sewage and rainwater from the city of Bras√≠lia, is in the hydrographic basin that is listed as a historical patrimony of humanity but has never ceased to grow. It is still coveted for the implantation of luxury enterprises, with an increasingly medicalized population… the quality of the lake reflects what the population embedded in the basin does.

We see the ambition of the real estate industry, which has the land as an input, carpet the preserved areas to implant its suicidal projects like the Taquari Sector on the area that our eco-historian, Paulo Bertran, called Parano√° little hill, with a hundred springs that contribute to the Torto stream that now supplies the Parano√° (emergency water supply plant). As the Northwest Sector little by little the destroyed the Bananal stream…

We are reducing the National Park of Bras√≠lia where is the Santa Maria Dam, we are converting in urban the rural areas in the Descoberto basin (main source of water of DF), also in the contribution basins of Corumb√° river (which this month may begin to supply the southern portion of the DF) … There are many examples of how we are mistreating the space of our city.

We have ahead of us a dubious future, a catastrophic virtuality that may or may not be up to date. I echo the philosophy of virtuality, Henri Bergson, which points to virtuality as existing: our current actions (today) already delineate a virtual reality that already exists, but which may or may not be updated. But it is already a reality, it already exists, in that it is a trend, as the process is already in the process of becoming.

Therefore it is imperative that we think of the territory, the water bodies that sustain us and the social bodies as beings in time, beings with becoming. Today we estimate that we have water availability, that Corumb√° IV would supply Brasilia with water for the next 100 years (as Roriz’s electoral propaganda called out). But like all beings, the water bodies perish and make it more or less fast according to the life they have.

What we usually call ‚ÄúNature‚ÄĚ, in fact, is not given; it is not a natural resource that is available. The fungal network is doing a great negotiation with the tree roots, which in turn negotiate with the groundwater and the flying rivers at the same time; the fire in the Cerrado does a strong diplomacy with the seeds. Do not deceive ourselves, they are doing a heavy politics.

That’s why we are going to do loose if we get out of this negotiation.

Liquid Democracy

Since 2015 we have been nurturing the idea of merging Latours vision of a Parliament of Things with the liquid democracy, a hybrid between direct democracy and representative democracy.

We are interested in tracing the representation of the delegation of mandates between agents in a form carrying greater resemblance to the actual interactional space of society. In social interactions actors delegate mandates to other agents or actors who then act on their behalf on a daily basis. We collaborate and thus trust other agents to do something on your behalf.

In direct democracy you are to vote on all societal matters in person. While operational in smaller societies or organisations, in most contexts this type of governance is not feasible due to complexity. Direct democracy is considered suboptimal because no-one can be expected to be well informed on all aspects. To enable democracy to scale the notion of representation was developed. In most current representative democracies citizens hand over their entire political mandate to a party or an agent on a set of societal aspects for a predefined period of time, for instance politicians are elected for the Danish national parliament for four years at the time, with each politician being elected in his local constituency.

But like the direct democracy, representative democracy has its issue with scaling in complexity too. Firstly, a singular agent can, just like the individual not be expected to know it all on a certain matter and thus vote informed. Secondly, for the system to work for you, you would have to be completely aligned with your representative, which is unlikely to occur in practice. Even more so, it is completely unlikely that a representative is fully aligned with his constituency. In the event of critical disagreement with your representative you cannot revoke your mandate, only vote differently at the next election. Thirdly, aggregation of en entire set of societal matters to a singular agent short circuit the tracing of representation, which according to actor network theory and Politics of Nature is a key requirement if we are to keep track of the social contracts.

Advances in digital communication technology has made new types of delegative democratic processes possible, hereunder liquid democracy. The German Pirate Party and Interaktive Demokratie e. V. developed the digital democratic tool Liquid Feedback, and Liquid Democracy e.V. developed the tool Liquid Democracy. These tools both host deliberation and decision functionalities. When voting you can choose to do preference ranking instead of simple yes no. You can require explanations of objections and so forth. More importantly, you can choose to vote directly or delegate your vote. Mechanisms has been put in place so that you can delegate your mandate according to specific topics, and you can delegate it to whomever you want.

This mandatary can then vote on your behalf on the specified topics or decide to forward this mandate to someone else, in parts or in full. Mandates can be revoked at any time and votes cast directly. It can be arranged so that after a representative has given his vote, the constituency is notified and a grace period commences, allowing delegators to revoke mandates and vote directly. This doesn’t mean that a representative cannot betray his constituency, but the power is handed back to the individual.


In effect the liquid democratic process can be hypothesised as to spread out instead of converging as seen in representative democratic processes. You can delegate a vote to a friend that you trust on matters pertaining to environmental regulation. Your friend can in turn delegate this mandate, or sub-delegate parts thereof, along with other received mandates pertaining to the same subset of societal aspects, here environment, to other agents with more topic specific knowledge.

Doesn’t this process not happen already, with politicians being informed by counsels and advisors? While the information and knowledge might be of equal or higher quality in existing political systems, the transparency is lost or effectively hindered by regulations and the one responsible for casting the vote, will remain able to cast blame on unidentifiable informants, as the tracking of the representations has been obscured.

The ever increasing need for better debates


Politics of Nature is an international initiative uniting people from tech, sciences and society to rethink, develop and deploy better ways of governing the commons.

Since May 2018 we have made four editions. One in Copenhagen, two in Amsterdam and one in Brasilia. You can read about them in the Articles section

The project will explore how humans can learn to interact with non-humans and engage in a joint political discussion where the end goal is to achieve ‚Äėconsents for coexistence‚Äô.¬†

Water ressources and privacy by design we believe will be topics only picking up more and more attention in the coming years. They touch upon ethics, infrastructure and survival. We hope to contribute to these big challenges with perspectives, not one sides opinion, before situations gets dramatically worse. Do we take a stand ? Yes, otherwise the project would never had started.

Our stand is that something proactive needs to be done with communication and representation to avoid further polarized fronts. We do not wish to face the consequences of running out of ressources nor loosing the capability to understand a person or thing that we disagree with.

We don’t, can’t and won’t control the outcomes of the editions. This is being created by the actors involved. We present a canvas and principles for a new democratic conversation.

Our vision is that everyone can pick up the tools and explore their networks and identify durable and lasting solutions to apparently wicked and unsolvable problems.