Problems of Pollution Facing the 2016 Rio Olympics

October 11, 2016

As part of Rio de Janeiro’s 2016 Olympic bid, the olympic committee made a couple of large promises, one of them the clean up of Guanabara Bay in the North Zone of Rio de Janeiro. The Guanabara Bay will be one of the main features of the opening ceremony and will hold competitions for all sailing and rowing events. City officials promised to reduce waste and pollution in the bay by 80% but little progress has been made.1 If you ask any resident of Rio de Janeiro if the bay is fit for competition, or even display, they would confidently say no.


In the past, Guanabara Bay was known for its clear and abundant waters, but now the waters are murky and filled with garbage and raw sewage. Many competitors are worried about becoming ill from the water and are also concerned that the accumulating garbage may damage boat components that are crucial for competing. While some people may blame uncontrolled littering for the current state of the bay, the city has yet to address the raw sewage problem that is also causing so much pollution. 


Rio de Janeiro has spent billions of dollars so far on construction and maintenance in preparation for the games. While most of the money is being directly filtered to Olympic venues, money has also gone to favelas, mostly for presentation purposes. Many favelas have received either vertical trolleys that take them up the side of the favela or cable cars that take people from the top over the favelas to the street and back up again. While this may seem helpful, and is profitable in the case of cable cars, many people residing in favelas are still hoping for basic sanitation. The raw sewage that is entering Guanabara Bay is, for the most part, coming from favelas in the North Zone that do not have basic sanitation or sewage systems in place.


Andre Correa, Rio’s Environment Secretary, knows that the bay will not improve by 80% by the time the Olympics arrive, but he has stated that he is less worried about the pollutants entering the water than the floating trash that could damage boats. His plan is to cast better nets along the bay in order to catch any debris.  However, no part of his clean up plan for the bay involves creating sewage systems that will be both beneficial for the bay and the residents living in the neighboring favelas. Promises have been made in the past, but it seems that not even a global event such as the olympics can change the conditions of the bay, and many are skeptical that any clean up attempts will continue once the olympics are over. It seems that Rio is superficially covering up a problem that can lead to health and safety problems for Olympians and residents alike, when it is clear that the problem comes from lack of aid to the favelas in the North Zone. 


1) Press, Associated. "Rio De Janeiro Is Breaking One Big Promise That Helped It Land The 2016 Olympics." Business Insider. Business Insider, Inc, 23 Jan. 2015. Web. 01 Feb. 2015. <



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Sophia Winston
Sophia Winston is a Spanish and Urban Studies major at the University of Pittsburgh, she is also pursuing a certificate in Latin American Studies and a minor in Portuguese. She has spent a semester abroad in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and is currently a senior.