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    Brazil's largest cities are a hallmark of inequality in Latin America with poor, under-served favelas harshly juxtaposed again wealthy neighborhoods. | Photo: Reuters

Published 21 July 2016
Brazil will not win the gold, silver, or bronze medal in sanitation and safe drinking water during the Rio Olympics.

While authorities in Rio scramble to finalize preparations for the upcoming Olympics, Brazil faces a public health crisis involving basic sanitation.

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Roughly 35 million people in the country still don't have access to safe drinking water and more than half the population lack sewage collection. These alarming facts encourage the proliferation of epidemic diseases, particularly dengue, chikungunya, and zika, all caused by the same mosquito that thrives in chaotic sanitary conditions.

Earlier this week the Brazilian Society of Tropical Medicine, founded in 1962 to support public and private institutions that aim to combat tropical diseases, and Trata Brazil Institute, founded in 2007 to improve public health by providing universal access to safe drinking water and collecting sewage, released a report detailing the grave situation of basic sanitation. The document opens as follows:

Basic sanitation in Brazil is shameful. We can attest that of all the social and environmental tragedies of the country, almost nothing compares to the colossal impact on nature and citizenry caused by the absence of the most fundamental infrastructure — regular clean drinking water services and the collection and treatment of sewage.



The document also states the following:

• Only 40 percent of sewage is treated before it’s deposited in nature.

• Basic sanitation hasn’t been improved in rural areas or communities of indigenous or quilombola populations.

• 60 percent of all sewage in the country is deposited in cesspits, rivers, lakes, reservoirs, hydrographic basins, and aquifers in the exact same form as they exit bathrooms (this is the equivalent of 5,000 Olympic swimming pools of sewage each day).

• Even in organized urban areas more than 5 million residencies have their sewage deposited in open trenches (this corresponds to 11 percent of all habitations)

• In the northern region of Brazil, an area that has more than 17 million people, less than 10 percent of the population has access to sewage collection. In the northeast of the country, home to slightly more than 53 million people, less than 25 percent of the population have sewage collection.


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The Brazilian Society of Traditional Medicine and Trata Brazil Institute add that they are aware of the significant changes that have taken place in respect to the federal government since Dilma Rousseff was impeached from her role as president. Yet both institutions insist that investments be maintained, if not increased, to improve basic sanitation throughout the country. If advancement in this strategic area in public health continues at its current pace, Brazil will not achieve nationwide implementation of these services as stipulated by PLANSAB-National Plan for Basic Sanitation.

Brazil will not win the gold, silver, or bronze medal in sanitation and safe drinking water during the Rio Olympics. This basic service remains to be unavailable to large swaths of the nation—from the most opulent, moneyed neighborhoods to the most economically deprived favelas and rural areas.

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