Yiyuan Qin, MEM

2014 TRI Fellow in Brazil

Exploring opportunities for natural infrastructure investment in the Brazilian Amazon

In the Brazilian Amazon, surging urban populations, coupled with limited built infrastructure, projected land use changes, and growing impacts of climate change, all exacerbate the inadequate access to safe water supply. Meanwhile, the Amazon’s forest and water systems of unparalleled biodiversity, which clearly provide essential ecosystem services to water utilities, businesses, and communities, are fragile and at risk from unregulated infrastructure development and unsustainable natural resource extraction.

There is clear evidence that the population growth and ensuing rising demand for land and resources poses significant threats to the ecological integrity of the Amazon Basin and compromises current conservation efforts, which will not only undermine the delivery of ecosystem services at the local level, but could also have catastrophic consequences globally. In recent years, in response to threats facing the world’s water systems, some watershed managers have recognized the importance of water-related benefits from natural systems and pioneered harnessing the power of “natural infrastructure” to combat water crises. Natural infrastructure refers to the “strategic use of networks of natural lands, working landscapes, and other open spaces to conserve ecosystem values and functions and provide associated benefits to human populations.”  Although investing in natural infrastructure has proven, in many cases, to yield economic benefits as well as a suite of co-benefits for communities and the environment compared to traditional gray infrastructure, there are still considerable challenges that hamper the efforts to integrate natural infrastructure into water management, including resource constraints, lack of public understanding, complications in quantification, and current institutional barriers.

With support from TRI, I had the opportunity to engage widely with scholars, local conveners, water utilities and beneficiaries, as well as government agencies in the Manaus Metropolitan Region (RMM), the largest urban center of the Brazilian Amazon. Through interviews and field visits, I examined water related challenges and land use patterns, explored current status and barriers in prioritizing ecosystem services in business, and learned about local forest and water conservation measures. While in Brazil, I was also able to connect with organizations in southern Brazil to learn about established natural infrastructure related approach. I am currently collaborating with a local NGO in Manaus developing plans to initiate projects to protect urban streams and groundwater in RMM.