One of the big concerns ahead of Rio's 2016 Olympics is whether the city's waterways will be cleaned up enough to safely hold water sports events, such as sailing, rowing and swimming. The truth is that the Olympics were an opportunity to address a decades-old problem and to find sustainable solutions so that Cariocas themselves can enjoy their cities beaches, bay and lagoons without fearing skin diseases, gastrointestinal problems, or crashing into rusting refrigerators.
That prospect is looking even more unlikely.
Last month, Rio Governor Luiz Fernando Pezão insisted the city is on target to reach its Olympic clean-up goal, after another official said it wouldn't be possible. Pezão says 80 percent of the city's sewage will be treated by mid-2016, and claims Rio is already treating nearly 50 percent.
These comments came shortly before the state environmental agency launched an investigation into a massive fish die-off in the bay, with thousands of twaite shad floating in the water. (A similar die-off occurred in November 2014, which some specialists attributed to the region's drought.)
Treating sewage is one of the major goals of the clean-up, but so is preventing 80 to 100 tons of garbage from entering the bay every single day. Two stopgap measures to address this as part of the Olympics clean-up effort include eco-boats, tasked with trawling and removing trash from waterways, and eco-barriers, lines of floating plastic in the city's rivers to stop the flow of trash into the ocean and lagoons.
But even those efforts are faltering, according to a report in yesterday's O Globo.
According to the newspaper, the state government stopped paying the eco-boat operators, and they have ceased working altogether. The 10 eco-boats are able to remove around 45 tons of trash per month. The government is about four months behind in payments, and owes around half a million reais. The eco-boat's contract with the government is estimated at R$1.8 million for 2015.
Plus, the city's supermarket association was sponsoring the eco-barrier efforts, but it pulled the funding. As a result, of the 14 eco-barrier structures operating in 2012, there are only 7 left. In 2012, the barriers were capturing up to 900 tons of trash a month; now, it's only 150 tons per month.
Image: An eco-boat in Rio. Rio government/public domain from the Programa de Saneamento dos Municípios do Entorno da Baía de Guanabara.