Sanitation at Rio Olympics deserves no medals

Rio failed to meet environmental sanitation targets in it's beaches, rivers, lakes and lagoons. 

The proposal to clean up Guanabara bay was among the reasons why the city won the right to host the 2016 Summer Olympics. Unfortunately, this opportunity was lost as it receives 90 tonnes daily of rubbish and about 18,000 liters per second of untreated waste water.

Rio de Janeiro Metropolitan region has a population of 12 million and only 1% of the garbage produced is recycled plus 70% of the sewage is released without treatment into the Guanabara bay.

The Olympic bid announced a target of cleaning up 80% of the effluents reaching the bay but according to Sports Minister Leonardo Picciani only 55% was achieved. Although the 80% target was not realistic and would cost 6 billion dollars in the next 25 to 30 years, environmentalists remain sceptic as to official figures.

Mario Moscatelli, a biologist and water issues activist in Rio de Janeiro told IPS, “I only believe in what I see: out of the 55 rivers in the basin, 49 have become lifeless sewers.”

Critics say this happened due to a mix of bureaucracy, corruption, government and business inefficiency. Also, besides environmental issues, the interim governor of the state of Rio de Janeiro, Francisco Dornelles declared a "state of calamity" over finances and said the city wouldn't be able to supply any of the basic services after the games.

The Olympic Park was built on the shores of the Jacarepaguá lagoon on the west side of the city and yet not even this body of water has been adequately treated.

Studies have found superbugs in the water of the city. In 2013 water samples collected by Fiocruz foundation from the Rodrigo de Freitas lagoon contained superbugs. The same happened with samples of the Carioca river.

Also five of the most popular beaches in Rio, Botafongo, Flamengo, Leblon, Ipanema and Copacabana were found to have superbugs, according to a study conducted by the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ).

Study coordinator Renata Picão told Mongabay, "Bacteria are common in hospitals and inevitably end up in the sewers. The lack of adequate treatment for such [hospital] waste allowed the superbugs to arrive at the Rio beaches.”

Other effluents like Fundão canal are full of bad smells and raw sewage despite a recent dredging because it remains connected to the polluted Cunha canal.

Near the Galeao airport the fishing village of Tubiacanga shows the scale of the Guanabara bay disaster. The bay with an area of 412 square kilometers  extends from Copacabana beach in the west to Itaipu in the east.

Tubiacanga is located at a meeting point of dirty waters from several canals and rivers, but garbage has caused water levels to drop and fish populations to decline.

Cleaning the bay has been a longstanding project. Since 1995 it has cost about 3 billion dollars but yet the environment has deteriorated. Eight wastewater treatment stations were built of expanded but they've never operated at full capacity. The main drains needed to collect wastewater and deliver it to the stations has never been built.

Athletes participating in water competitions may be at risks and the UFRJ recommends the Olympic Committee to carefully observe them before, during and after the games.

“This is a global problem: superbugs have already been found in animals, drinking water, rivers, lakes, and sewage samples in Germany, Austria, Canada, China, the US, Morocco and Vietnam, among other countries. We will not know if some athletes have arrived [in Rio already] colonized [with super bacteria] if they don’t go through infectious diseases exams,” concluded Picão.

 

LatinAmerican Post | Maria Andrea Marquez

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