MAY 22, 2024

The Legal Imperatives for Advancing Sanitation Infrastructure in Brazil and Canada: A Comparative Perspective


Effective sanitation management transcends routine administrative or technical concerns, embodying a profound legal imperative deeply rooted in international law, human rights principles, and domestic legal frameworks. This short article provides a comparative analysis of the legal approaches to sanitation in Santa Catarina, Brazil, and Ontario, Canada, examining how legislation can either facilitate or impede progress in this critical public health sector. Such analysis is crucial, as effective sanitation systems significantly impact public health, environmental sustainability, and socio-economic development. By dissecting the legal structures that support or undermine sanitation improvements, this paper highlights the transformative power of legal frameworks in advancing human rights and fulfilling international obligations. This exploration provides valuable insights for policymakers, legal experts, and international organizations, aiming to leverage legal mechanisms to enhance global sanitation standards.

Legal Framework and Compliance in Brazil

Brazil’s legal structure is designed to ensure the right to sanitation, as mandated by the Federal Constitution, which views it as part of the broader right to a healthy environment and quality of life. This constitutional guarantee is further reinforced by the National Basic Sanitation Law, which sets out the framework for delivering sanitation services across the country. Hülse et al explains that the law aims for widespread access to these essential services, proposing that every citizen should have reliable sanitation. It sets ambitious goals and provides the legal basis for organizing how water and sewage services are to be managed and delivered by municipal and state authorities. However, despite these strong legal foundations, actual service coverage remains inconsistent, highlighting a disconnect between law and practice.

In Santa Catarina, for instance, the struggle to implement these sanitation standards is evident. While the law aims for universal service provision, according to the OECD only a little over half of the state’s population is connected to sewage networks. This shortfall points to significant challenges in infrastructure development and funding. Such underperformance not only compromises public health but also contravenes the residents’ constitutional rights to health and a balanced environment. The existing legal framework, although robust on paper, requires more effective implementation strategies, according to Costa. These might include better financial models for infrastructure, more rigorous enforcement of compliance by local and state authorities, and possibly incentives to accelerate the expansion of sewage and water services.

The discrepancy between the legal mandates and actual implementation in regions like Santa Catarina suggests a need for a review of how these laws are applied on the ground. It may be necessary to introduce stronger enforcement mechanisms to ensure compliance with the law. In Carvalho’s analysis, revising the legal instruments to better suit local conditions could be a way forward. Tailoring laws to address specific regional challenges could help bridge the gap between the intent of the legislation and its practical application. For Brazil to truly meet its sanitation goals, a multi-faceted approach involving legal, financial, and administrative reforms is essential. Enhancing the effectiveness of these laws in practice will require concerted efforts from all levels of government, coupled with active participation from the communities they are meant to serve.

Ontario’s Legislative Environment

Ontario has a strong legal foundation that greatly supports sanitation services, helping to protect public health and the environment. The Safe Drinking Water Act and the Ontario Water Resources Act play key roles in this, setting high standards for water cleanliness and treatment. These laws are more than just rules; they actively help to keep the public safe by demanding high levels of water purity. There are strict inspections and required reports from water service providers to make sure these standards are always met. If the standards are not met, quick actions are taken to fix this, keeping the water services reliable throughout the province.

Additionally, the enforcement strategies and compliance systems in Ontario are very effective. Provincial authorities have the power to investigate and correct any issues, and there are heavy penalties for failing to meet standards. These penalties help prevent any negligence. Public reporting adds to this system by requiring the authorities to be transparent, letting the public hold them accountable. This not only builds trust among the residents but also encourages a responsible and watchful approach from the government and service providers.

The fact that almost everyone in Ontario has access to clean drinking water and sanitation services shows how well the legal system works. This high level of service is impressive, especially when many places around the world struggle to provide similar services. The compliance rates, which are over 99%, according to the 2023 Report, show that the system not only meets standards but also handles and reduces risks related to water management. By ensuring access to safe drinking water and sanitation, Ontario not only protects its environment but also improves the lives of its residents, serving as a great example for other areas.

The Role of Policy and Legal Adaptations

Brazil could benefit significantly by analyzing Ontario’s legal framework for sanitation services. The clear disparity in sanitation access between Brazil’s Santa Catarina and Ontario—where Santa Catarina has only 55.8% access versus Ontario’s nearly 100%—suggests that there are valuable lessons to be learned from Ontario’s approach. Ontario’s model includes strict compliance measures that ensure that sanitation providers adhere to high standards, robust public accountability mechanisms that keep the public informed and involved, and active community engagement in policy-making. These elements contribute to the high level of service delivery in Ontario and could be tailored to fit Brazil’s unique social and economic landscape.

However, it is important to note that Ontario initiated its sanitation processes nearly a century before Santa Catarina. This historical head start has undoubtedly contributed to the more advanced state of its sanitation infrastructure and services. The earlier start allowed Ontario to gradually develop and refine its policies, enforcement mechanisms, and community engagement practices over a longer period, benefiting from accumulated experience and technological advancements. This context is crucial when considering the adaptation of Ontario’s strategies to Brazil, as it highlights the need for patience and sustained effort in policy implementation and infrastructure development.

Integrating these aspects from Ontario could involve several strategic changes in Brazil. First, adopting strict compliance measures could mean more rigorous enforcement of existing sanitation laws and possibly creating stricter regulations where current laws are insufficient. Public accountability mechanisms such as transparent reporting and public audits could be introduced or strengthened to increase trust and monitor the performance of sanitation services.

Financing of Sanitation in Ontario and Santa Catarina

The financing of sanitation services have clear contrasts between Brazil and Canada, reflecting disparate access and sustainability practices. Both countries, committed under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly Goal 6, aim for sustainable management of water and sanitation for all by 2030. Yet, their approaches and outcomes vary significantly due to differing funding mechanisms and public policy effectiveness.

Historical underinvestment has led to inadequate infrastructure, especially in rural and marginalized areas. For instance, in Silva’s analysis, Brazil needs an annual investment of R$39 billion (about 0.4% of GDP) to maintain and improve its sanitation infrastructure until 2033—a figure that doubles the investment made in 2021. The inclusion of private sector participation through public-private partnerships aims to mobilize additional resources and enhance service efficiency and coverage. However, these efforts have faced uneven implementation and resistance from various sectors.

In Brazil, specifically in the state of Santa Catarina, securing adequate funding for sanitation has been a significant challenge. Contrastingly, Canada, and particularly Ontario, exhibits a more developed sanitation infrastructure supported by consistent and substantial public funding alongside regulated private sector involvement. This model has achieved nearly universal sanitation coverage and aligns closely with international commitments like the SDGs. Ontario’s success demonstrates the potential benefits of well-planned investments in sanitation infrastructure, which not only support public health and environmental quality but also contribute to economic stability.


The legal frameworks governing sanitation in Ontario and Santa Catarina highlight substantial differences in structure and effectiveness, illustrating the critical role that law can play in shaping public utility services. This comparative analysis emphasizes the need for robust legal frameworks to enforce sanitation standards and drive infrastructure improvements. As Brazil seeks to rectify its sanitation challenges, it can draw important lessons from Ontario’s proactive legal strategies. By strengthening its legal instruments, Brazil can accelerate progress toward universal sanitation access, thereby meeting both national and international public health and human rights commitments.

* Claudio Antonio Klaus Junior is a lawyer licensed in Brazil and currently pursuing Ontario licensing. He is based in Toronto and holds a Master’s degree in Development and Society from Alto Vale do Rio do Peixe University.

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