The Road to Rio

TRT World visits Olympic host city Rio de Janeiro ahead of Games

Photo by: TRTWorld
Photo by: TRTWorld

Brazilian authorities have failed to keep the promise to clean Rio’s waters in time for the Olympics.

Updated Feb 5, 2016

“I dont swim here anymore. Unless I have to - if someone falls in the water I’ll of course jump to save the person… but that’s the only way you’ll see me in this water”

Serginho is a fisherman born and raised in Rio de Janeiro. He is disappointed at local authorities who he says have "not kept their promise."

That "promise" was made back in 2009 when Rio was awarded the Olympic Games and its authorities said they would clean Guanabara Bay of all the sewage and garbage that have been thrown into it - uninterruptedly - for the past 400 years.

Many people in Rio share Serginho’s opinion and have very little hope that things will change. Ever.

Rubbish piled up at Marina da Gloria [TRTWorld]

According to biologists, the pollution in Rio’s waters is a result of a lack of urban planning. 

"The way the city was built - informally and spontaneously - has transformed rivers, lakes - and ultimately the bay - in a gigantic toilet 

"Lagoons are dead. Entire ecosystems are disappearing." 

But there was a project to try and revert that.

Biologist Mario Moscatelli - the source of the above quotes - was part of a team that worked with the government to develop a plan presented to the International Olympic Committee. 

A plan to clean the water. 

But he says the measures have not been implemented. And he knows why: 

"It’s big business. Water companies charge for sewage treatment that they don’t provide. So they are making money without delivering the service - which is lucrative. Albeit, dishonest."

Biologist Mario Moscatelli was part of the team that came up with a plan to clean the water. [TRTWorld]

Moscatelli told TRT World the scheme in common knowledge in Brazil. And that authorities have never tried fixing it.

Only 40 percent of Rio’s sewage is treated.

"We’re talking about Brazil’s second largest city - which lives a XVII century reality when it comes to sanitation. It’s embarrassing," Moscatelli said.

Olympic medalist Lars Grael warned members of the Olympic Committee: "we should have chosen a different track for the race, Guanabara Bay is not appropriate" [TRTWorld]

Olympic medalist Lars Grael told us he and his brother Torben Grael - also a medallist - have tried dissuading the 2016 Rio Committee from hosting sailing, open water swimming, and triathlon races in Guanabara Bay: 

“We could have done it in Buzios, a world renowned track. But the 2016 Rio Committee planned the event in such a way that all races would be within a certain perimeter.” In other words, convenience was chosen over safety.

During test events last year athletes reported the water had caused some people to come down with illnesses.

German sailor Erik Heil said he needed treatment after competing in Rio. He plans to wear a plastic cover over his suit in August.

And the American rowing team reported 13 athletes presented stomach problems after coming into contact with the ater in Rio.

We have requested an interview with Rio’s environment agency Inea - which works as a monitoring body and is supposed to be conducting the tests provided to the IOC and the World Health Organization. They promised to get back to us. We are still waiting. 

Rio de Janeiro’s mayor, Eduardo Paes, agreed to talk briefly - before a meeting. He says he is not a specialist and that he trusts the WHO, which is acting as a consultant for the IOC and has come out saying that water, within the field of play, meets the necessary standards.

But Paes has not spoken about why the work to clean the bay has not been carried out in the last 7 years.

The only independent tests were requested by the Associated Press and revealed the water is highly contaminated - even far from the shore. [TRTWorld]

There are concerns over how athletes will feel after competing in Rio in August. 

But the real danger is what locals are exposed to on a daily basis. And the fact that people have somewhat accepted that water in Rio will never be clean again. 

"If they haven’t done it now - with the whole world watching - they will never get it done," Moscatelli said.

Author: Anelise Borges