Last year, we told you about the problems that were facing the Rio Olympics, from the high crime rate to the massive pollution problem where many of the water events will be held. But the Mayor of Rio promised the Olympic Committee and the world that the issue was under control and would be cleaned up before the games started.
Now just five weeks before the start of the Olympics in Rio, police say a mutilated body washed up on Copacabana Beach, where the beach volleyball competition will be held. The horrific discovery comes as Olympics organizers deal with a raft of problems including severe pollution in the venues for sailing, rowing, and other water sports.
Biologist Mario Moscatelli is the man behind the camera who has been documenting Rio’s vast water pollution problem for the past 20 years. He had hoped the Olympics would be a driving force compelling Rio to clean up the coastal areas of this once beautiful beach front. “We had seven years and our authorities didn’t do almost anything, because this is a toilet,” he said, pointing at the water.
It is easy to see just what Mr. Moscatelli is talking about. One look reveals raw sewage still flowing from Rio’s poor neighborhoods right into the water. Meanwhile, in the marina where Olympic sailors will launch their boats, a giant plume of sewage streams into the water. In fact, things are so still so bad that Rio’s waters were found to contain viruses up to 1.7 million more times hazardous than a beach in the U.S.
But the problem is not just sewage. It’s also plain old trash, tons of it, in fact hundreds of tons of it floating in the bay. And some athletes say they’re worried about running into it. “We’ve seen it with some other boats that they’ve collided with maybe a chair…it could be anything,” said Arantza Gumucio, an Olympic sailor from Chile.
Oceanographer David Zee said the Brazilian government promised to install eight treatment plants on Rio’s polluted rivers. They built just one. They promised to treat 80 percent of the sewage flowing into Guanabara Bay, and are only treating about half. Zee said if he had to grade the job the government has done cleaning up the water, he would give them a D. “The water continues in the bad shape,” he said.
Guido Gelli with Rio’s Environmental Department said it’s easy to criticize. “The problem is the sewage systems, because it’s not easy, it’s very expensive,” he said. “And for Olympic Games there’s no problem with the surface of the bay in the place where the games will be.”
The plight of the Rio Games points out one thing, the games should never be awarded to cities that do not has sufficient infrastructure to handle them. Today the games are big business and they cost a small fortune to host. The games should never be awarded to a poor country, let alone one that is the throes of a 25 year long recession.
As for Rio’s politicians, it is easy to make promises, but it’s hard to ignore that what used to be one of the most beautiful places on Earth, might not be ready for its close-up. This is definitely not the Rio of the “Girl from Ipanema.”
CBS News contributed to this story.
©2016 R. L. Grimes