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2016 Rio Olympics: Sailing with sewage

The Cunha canal, which flows into the highly polluted Guanabara Bay in Rio de Janeiro. (Christophe Simon/AFP/Getty Images)
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If Rio de Janeiro can’t clean up Guanabara Bay in time for its use as the sailing and windsurfing venue for the 2016 Olympic Games, competitors could confront some unaccustomed challenges: millions of dead fish, sewage, “floating sofas, plastic bags and even dead animals and a deadly “super bacteria.” With the games only 17 months away, athletes are concerned and disappointed. 

While officials have promised a substantial clean-up in advance of the Games, efforts are being hampered by a lack of available boats to do the job “due to delays in agreeing a contract to purchase them,” Inside the Games reported this week.

[Related: Thousands of dead fish found in Rio Olympic sailing venue]

The bay is shared by more than 8 million residents of 15 cities that pollute the water with garbage and untreated sewage, reported Cindy Boren of The Washington Post. As a part of its Olympic bid, Rio promised to reduce the bay’s pollution by 80 percent — but in January, the Brazilian government stated it wouldn’t meet that goal.

On top of everything else, late last year news broke that the bay contained a deadly “super bacteria,” as The Post reported:

The enzyme in question is called the KPC enzyme, which gained notoriety in the United States in 2012 when it was found in 37 states, mostly in hospitals, where it had an estimated mortality rate of 50 percent in patients with suppressed immune systems.

“The illnesses caused by these microorganisms are the same as those caused by common bacteria, but they require stronger antibiotics and, sometimes, can require hospitalization,” the study’s coordinator, Ana Paula D’Alincourt Carvalho Assef, told the AP. “Since the super bacteria are resistant to the most modern medications, doctors need to rely on drugs that are rarely used because they are toxic to the organism.”

[Related: ‘Super bacteria’ found in Rio waters where sailors and windsurfers are supposed to compete in the Olympics]

More recently, thousands of small dead fish have been discovered floating in the water, Boren wrote last month.

To battle the pollution, Rio de Janeiro state asked a Dutch company to map the solid waste, according to the Associated Press. ‘”We provide information that can be used, hopefully in an optimal way,” said the project’s leader, Joao Rego, “and then it’s up to the local authorities to implement mitigation measures.”

But Rego, speaking this week to Inside the Games, did not sound very optimistic. “We have devised a high quality modelling system in order to reduce levels” of waste and debris, he said. It will achieve some reduction, he added, but “everything is relative.”

Biologist Mario Moscatelli, a critic of Rio’s clean-up efforts, is no more hopeful. “We need to do something to stop the waste from being dumped by the people into the rivers,” he told the AP. “There’s no question. It’s not about money, it’s not about technology. It’s about political will.”

“Of course I’d like for everything to be ready for the Olympics, but what I want is a legacy for the local population,” Rio de Janeiro Governor Luiz Fernando Pezão said, as USA Today reported.

“There are parts of the bay where you are literally inside a latrine where hundreds of thousands of people defecate daily,” Moscatelli said. The researcher has even seen cadavers in the water.

“Brazil is the country of the future,” he said. “The problem is that the future never comes.”

h/t IB Times