Activists protest Rio water, filthy despite Olympic promises

RIO DE JANEIRO — Environmental activists sailed across Rio de Janeiro’s Guanabara Bay on Saturday to protest pollution in the city’s waterways and broken promises to clean them up around the 2016 Olympics.

The silent flotilla coincided with the one-year anniversary of the start of the Rio Games. The Brazilian city pledged in its Olympic bid to treat 80 per cent of its water waste by the time the Games began, but failed to deliver on that promise.

Days ahead of the Games, a study commissioned by The Associated Press showed dangerously high levels of contamination.

Sergio Ricardo, founder of the collective Baia Viva, led about 50 activists and fishermen across Guanabara Bay. Many boats displayed banners demanding improved sanitation.

“The Bay is still alive, fishing is still alive and marine life resists despite the (inaction by) authorities. But society has to fight for its own environmental health,” said Ricardo.

With the Olympics long over and the country in the midst of an economic crisis, expectations of any improvement are now low.

At various times this year, the beaches of Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon – the most popular with tourists – have been deemed too unclean for bathing by the State Environmental Institute. The waters of Botafogo, Flamengo and nearly half of the Barra da Tijuca seashore have consistently been listed as “unbatheable.”

The lagoons have fared even worse. Much touted by the International Olympic Committee as among the legacy works for the Games, the recovery of the Tijuca, Camorim and Jacarepagua lagoons fell behind schedule and was later interrupted.

Mario Moscatelli, a biologist and longtime environmental advocate, thinks the cleanup was never a priority.

“The authorities did nothing when Brazil was doing well, when they were looking forward to the Games and money was not lacking. What would they do now that they have the great excuse of the (financial) crisis?”

Liliana Michelena, The Associated Press

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