Olympics: Rio pledges cleaner waters for Summer Games next year

Earlier this year, the Rio de Janeiro state government said the amount of sewage treated before reaching the bay had risen to 49 per cent from 17 per cent.
Earlier this year, the Rio de Janeiro state government said the amount of sewage treated before reaching the bay had risen to 49 per cent from 17 per cent. PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR (REUTERS) - Efforts to improve the water quality for the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympics are ongoing, Games organisers said on Saturday, adding that the welfare of the athletes was a top priority after reports of severe pollution off the shores of the Brazilian metropolis.

Privately commissioned tests of the water quality, where rowers, sailors and open water swimmers will be competing, revealed this week a high level of disease-causing viruses.

The waters along Rio's Atlantic coast, including Guanabara Bay where sailing events will be held, have been polluted for years and successive governments have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on supposed clean-ups to little effect.

Biologists last year said rivers leading into the bay contained a superbacteria resistant to antibiotics that cure urinary, gastrointestinal and pulmonary infections.

"The bay is the most iconic part of the Rio 2016 legacy," Games communications chief Mario Andrada told the International Olympics Committee in a progress presentation just over a year before the Games start on Aug 5, 2016.

"The health and welfare of athletes is our principle priority after a successful test event last year. We will do more in 2015 and 2016.

"New eco boats, a new monitoring system, new eco barriers, at every barrier a boat to collect the waste, pipelines to move sewage elsewhere."

When Rio de Janeiro bid to host the 2016 Olympic Games, the city trumpeted the clean-up and said it would cut the amount of raw sewage flowing into the bay by 80 per cent.

But it has since admitted it is unlikely to meet that target, something Mayor Eduardo Paes called a "lost opportunity" for the city.

Earlier this year, the Rio de Janeiro state government said the amount of sewage treated before reaching the bay had risen to 49 per cent from 17 per cent.

"The waters around the competition areas currently comply with national and international standards," Andrada said. "We remain committed to be absolutely transparent with athletes about the state of the water before every day of competition."