With Olympic cleanup canceled, Rio resigned to dirty bay

Tue Apr 26, 2016 12:12pm EDT
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By Ricardo Moraes

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Visitors flocking to Rio de Janeiro for this summer's Olympic Games will find both dramatic landscapes and polluted, junk-filled water in the finger-like inlet that forms the city's shoreline and harbor.

Guanabara Bay, which carves into southeast Brazil from the Atlantic Ocean, literally gave the city its name when Portuguese mariners mistook it for a "rio," or "river." Four centuries later, the bay is preparing to welcome another sort of seafarer – Olympic sailors who will navigate it when Rio 2016 kicks off in August.

But for those who call the bay home, the Games are already a disappointment.

After Rio won the rights in 2009 to host the Olympics, local officials vowed to clean up Guanabara Bay. But an economic downturn, political instability and a historic corruption scandal left many of the promises made back then, when the country was booming, hopelessly out of reach.

By 2014, Rio authorities had already given up on the cleanup.

Now they are just trying to keep the parts of the bay that Olympic sailors will traverse free from debris that in recent months has included floating refrigerators, couches and even corpses.

After decades of development, raw sewage, industrial waste and litter have poured in from a metropolitan area that is home to more than 11 million people.

While the shores are verdant and telegenic, and some people still use the bay for recreation, the water is so dirty that scientists and physicians warn that contact with it can lead to viral and bacterial infections.   Continued...

Naval carpenter Alexandro de Oliveira, 41, jumps from a boat in which he was doing a job to his boat house, on the waters of Guanabara Bay in Rio de Janeiro Brazil, April 4, 2016.  REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes