Sick and poor in Rio: Olympic environmental and rejuvenation promises already broken
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Sick and poor in Rio: Olympic environmental and rejuvenation promises already broken

The municipal and state governments of Rio de Janeiro have already failed to uphold promises made in the wake of the city being selected to host the 2016 Summer Olympic Games.

Don’t drink (or swim in) the water

After Rio won its 2009 bid the state government pledged to clean up the locations where several swimming and boating events would be held. Around 80 percent of sewage entering the city’s iconic Guanabara Bay would be treated.

It turns out that goal was too lofty, with state government officials, including its governor, admitting the plan was overly ambitious. They’ve since rescheduled for another 20 years down the line, around 19 years too late for the Olympics.

Today, only 50 percent of the sewage entering Guanabara Bay is still raw: what goes into a large number of Rio’s toilets goes directly into the bay.

The same — or worse — goes for other sites such as Rodrigo de Freitas Lake, where rowers and canoeists are set to compete. An AP-sponsored study, prompting the World Health Organization to urge the International Olympic Committee to test for viruses at the Olympic’s water venues, blew the roof off any prior statements by Brazilian officials that the sites would be safe for water sports.

However, on Monday, the WHO reversed its position, stating that it will not issue an official recommendation for virus testing.

13 US rowers among first victims of Rio’s dirty water

As a run up to a summer Olympic event, the World Junior Rowing Championships is currently under way in Rio de Janeiro — with Rodrigo de Freitas Lake as its venue.

The competition is an Olympic test event in more ways than one. In terms of its polluted water venues, Rio looks to be failing.

From the U.S. rowing team, 13 members — along with several members of other national teams and four members of the U.S. team’s staff — have shown symptoms of gastrointestinal illnesses.

Team physician Dr. Kathryn Ackerman, when asked by the Associated Press about the high instances of vomiting and diarrhea among the U.S. contingency, had this to say:

I don’t know if it was the water bottles in the boats, or hygiene precautions that some athletes are really good about and others weren’t.

We’re not really sure. My personal feeling is, I think it’s from the lake

On Saturday a boat parade was held in Guanabara Bay to highlight the problem of its pollution.

The dream of green favelas that never grew

Another promising Olympic project was the rejuvenation of Rio’s slums — or favelas — in preparation for the games. The project began in earnest, with a few construction operations aimed at the city’s poorest residents carried out with the use of sustainable or recycled materials.

Roads were repaved using recycled car tires and new apartment buildings were constructed and equipped with solar panels and water harvesting systems.

According to a report by the Guardian, soon after the project took off it simply ended and with no official explanation. Only 26 of a planned 117 apartments were ever built and some have already exhibited construction problems, which officials have so far failed to address.

If Rio’s government at least learns from its mistakes and shortcomings there still may be something to be gained from these experiences. However, if the legacies of other host cities are anything to judge by, the games may simply prove to be a curse rather than a boon.

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