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.
Locals who once plied their livelihood in the bay can now barely get by.
“I raised my whole family through fishing,” said 63-year-old Jorge Henrique Coutinho, who lives in a fisherman’s colony near Rio’s international airport. “I bought my house, my car, everything. Nowadays, it is hardly enough for us to eat.”
Alexandro Domingues de Oliveira, a 41-year-old mechanic who lives on a small houseboat surrounded by litter, said the Olympics would do little to improve his lot.
“The tourists will only come here and share it with us for a moment, but then they will leave, and we are the ones left with this mess.”
Additional reporting by Sergio Queiroz; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn