Only 40% of sewage gets treated in Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro has a real problem on its hands. The World Cup is just around the corner, and the 2016 Olympics are quickly approaching, but the city still doesn’t have a comprehensive plan for dealing with sewage.

In a Global Post article called “Come for the World Cup, swim with the feces,” Rachel Glickhouse reveals that only 40 percent of sewage in Rio gets treated. The rest clogs the city’s waterways, ending up in the ocean – where beaches are more toxic than pristine – or staying to rot in the city’s lagoons and rivers. An additional 80-100 tons of garbage also drift out to Guanabara Bay on a daily basis.

The State Institute of the Environment (INEA) monitors water quality throughout the city. Currently in the Zona Sul, where Rio’s wealthiest neighbourhoods and tourist areas are located, 12 different test points showed that the ocean is unsafe for swimming due to poor water quality. Even in Lebron, the most expensive neighbourhood in all of Brazil, the INEA says the water is unsafe for swimming.

It's a modern city that's dealing with a 17th-century problem -- lack of decent sanitation.

But it’s the poor residents of Rio who really suffer. Nearly 100 million people throughout Brazil lack access to sanitation, which means “constant exposure to raw sewage is a problem in favelas.” Hepatitis A is commonly contracted through sewage exposure, as are skin diseases and gastrointestinal problems. The rainy season brings a flood of contaminated water into homes in the favelas.

If you’ve always lived in North America, where human feces disappears quickly and reliably, it’s hard to imagine living in close proximity to sewage. I once lived in Recife, a large city in Brazil’s northeast, in a rough neighbourhood with the dubious name of Lagoa Encantada, or “Enchanted Lake.” Instead of a lake, there was a long canal that contained far more garbage and sewage than water. In summer, its stink filled the air, permeating the walls of every house. When the rainy season came, the mess floated and bobbed along, occasionally overflowing. As much as I love Brazil, there are certain places where it seems you can never get away from that smell.

Rio has to do something about it, and yet dealing with sewage is not on the city’s list of top priorities. Glickhouse reports:

“In April, the state government announced it was cutting its 2016 Olympics budget for bay clean-up by 95 percent, reducing spending from $1 billion to around $51 million.”

The governor justifies the decision by saying that cleaning up Guanabara Bay is a “long term project that had begun even before Rio was selected to host the Olympics, which is why it doesn’t need to be linked specifically to the Olympics.”

It’s a good thing the World Cup doesn’t rely on water. But by the time the Olympic water events roll around in 2016, it would be nice to know that going to the beach in Rio is no longer synonymous with “going to sewage.”

See the original GlobalPost article for some shocking photos of sewage in Rio.

Tags: Brazil | Olympics | Tourism