UPD student delves into favelas with support of Rockefeller Center

Jacob Koch’s (MUP ’15) summer job brought him face to face with a long-brewing crisis: the depletion and pollution of drinking water in São Paulo, Brazil. In recent years, the city’s water resources have been threatened by the rapid expansion of informal settlements, which are known as favelas. As a summer researcher at the University of São Paulo’s new institute for urban studies (USP Cidades), Koch studied the effectiveness of government water management policies. 
Koch’s research was supported financially and logistically by Harvard University’s David Rockefeller Center for Latin America Studies (DRCLAS). The mission of DRCLAS is to expand society’s understanding of the “cultures, economies, histories, environment, and contemporary affairs of past and present Latin America.” One way that DRCLAS meets this mission is by offering grants to students to support research and internships.
The encroachment of urban areas on reservoirs is a major problem in São Paolo, for trash, sewage, and polluted runoff from the favelas can degrade water quality. Government actors, including the World Bank, have recognized this problem since at least the 1990s and implemented policies in response. Koch’s research suggests, however, that these programs have been flawed in key ways.
Said Koch, “Despite the fact that on paper, [the government] has really progressive water policies, politicians haven’t been investing in water.” According to Koch, government agencies have also struggled to communicate and coordinate with each other over the issue of water management. This administrative shortcoming has been brought into sharp relief during the last year due to uncharacteristically dry weather, which has left reservoir levels precariously low.
As he completes his final year at Harvard, Koch hopes to stay engaged with the study of rapid urbanization and its consequences in Brazil. He thinks that his research might support an independent study in the spring and is working on a case study of risk management in São Paulo for Professor Diane Davis. DRCLAS’s support during the summer was invaluable in furthering these opportunities.
“It gave me the opportunity to explore a whole new set of issues,” said Koch, unconsciously affirming the Rockefeller Center’s mission of expanding awareness of contemporary affairs in Latin America.
Image courtesy of Jacob Koch.