Officials vowed to tackle the problem after the United Nations Earth Summit here in 1992 drew scrutiny of Rio’s foul waters. The Rio state government secured more than $1 billion in loans from Japan’s government and the Inter-American Development Bank for cleanup projects, but they have not been even remotely successful, according to environmental experts. The State Environmental Institute in Rio de Janeiro estimates that more than 10 percent of the trash here is not collected, much of it flowing into the bay through canals and degraded rivers.
Vast amounts of raw sewage leak into the waters. Officials set a goal of treating as much as 80 percent of it by the 2016 Olympics, but less than 40 percent is currently treated.
State environmental officials have acknowledged they would fall short of that goal, The Associated Press reported over the weekend, citing a letter sent to federal authorities requesting more funding to battle pollution.
Calling the bay “dark, brown and stinking,” Lars Grael, 50, a Brazilian sailing legend who won two Olympic medals, said he had encountered human corpses on four occasions while sailing in the bay. He told reporters that officials should move the sailing events to a resort area hours away by car.
The authorities here insist that nothing of the sort will happen. Carlos Portinho, Rio’s top environmental official, said the criticism of Guanabara Bay was exaggerated, contending that recent tests had shown that fecal contamination in the Olympic regatta area was within “satisfactory” standards in Brazil.
Acknowledging that reversing pollution in the bay was a “long-term project,” Mr. Portinho said that officials had deployed three small “ecoboats” to collect garbage; by the Olympics, he said, 20 or 30 might be operating. He said that new sewage treatment plants were being built, while floating “ecobarriers” would facilitate the collection of trash in the bay.
Brazilian environmental experts say the efforts are a fraction of what needs to be done.
“The government could deploy aircraft carriers to collect the bay’s garbage and the problem would not be solved,” said Mario Moscatelli, a biologist. “The bay is still a latrine. It’s an insult to Rio’s people to say it will be clean for the Olympics.”