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Brazil’s Olympic Games, Climate Change and Water Security

Via Future Directions International, a look at Brazil’s Olympic Games, climate change and water security:


Brazil’s turbulent state of political, economic and environmental affairs has cast an eerie shadow over the success of Brazil’s ability to host the Olympic Games. The Olympic Opening Ceremony in Maracanã Stadium, Rio de Janeiro, highlighted the significance of climate change as a universally important issue. The Olympics and the controversies surrounding Rio’s environmental challenges have captured the reality that Brazil is struggling with the implications of climate change and long-term water security.


Brazil has been regarded as the “Saudi Arabia of water” accounting for 12 to 16 per cent of the world’s freshwater supply. Brazil’s ability to host the Olympic Games has been questioned, particularly with the outbreak of Zika Virus and severe pollution in Rio’s air and waterways in Guanabara Bay. Brazilian health experts have warnedOlympic marathon swimmers, sailors and windsurfers to ‘keep your mouth closed’ due to the contamination of raw sewage and household garbage in the waters. Serious health concerns remain for competing athletes, as was seen last week when Australian swimming officials withdrew their swimmers from one of the training pools over fears of infection.

Guanabara Bay is one of the largest bays in Brazil with over 50 rivers and streams flowing into it. The Rio Sarapuí flows through Rio de Janeiro for over 30 kilometres, collecting untreated waste and garbage from the millions of people living alongside it. After Brazil won the bid to host the 2016 Olympic Games, only an estimated 11 per cent of the sewage flowing into Guanabara Bay was treated. Brazilian state officials pledged to increase the amount to 80 per cent and established the Environmental Sanitation Programme for the Guanabara Bay Area (PSAM). After Sérgio Cabral, Rio’s State Governor, announced PSAM in March 2012, there was an estimated 1.1 billion Reals ($456 million) invested by the Inter-American Development Bank and the Rio State Government. Evidently, PSAM and the cleaning of the Guanabara Bay remains one of the Olympic organisers’ biggest failures.

Water contamination and sanitation issues are not the only contemporary environmental challenges in Brazil. In 2015, the city of São Paulo experienced one of its greatest water crises in its modern history. In the years preceding the water crisis, São Paulo recorded a growing deficit in rainfall. In addition to this, extreme temperatures and drought-like conditions led to water shortages and daily water cuts for roughly 20 million people. The São Paulo water crisis was exacerbated by underwhelming efforts to maintain and develop the city’s critical water infrastructure system. According to the 2012 findings of the city’s Basic Sanitation Company, São Paulo lost 36.3 per cent of its treated water due to leaks in water distribution, illegal connections and theft. Brazil’s poor water governance and water resource management will undoubtedly have detrimental impacts on its long-term water security.

Brazilian Population Density and Baseline Water Stress

Brazil’s vulnerability to climate change has intensified due to deforestation in the Amazon rainforest. Many fear the deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon will have detrimental impacts on the country’s long-term food and water security. In November 2015, Brazil’s Instituto do Homem e Meio Ambiente da Amazônia (Institute of Man and Environment in the Amazon) published data on land degradation and deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, which resulted in a loss of 5,831 square kilometres. Although Brazil has experienced a significant decline in deforestation since the 2000s, this data suggests a worrying increase of 16 per cent compared to the previous year.

In the Brazilian Amazon, deforestation has been driven by large-scale industrialisation and exploitation to establish crops, hydroelectric infrastructure and mining, resulting in limited freshwater supply, loss of natural treatment and basic sanitation infrastructure, soil erosion and widespread pollution. Deforestation has also contributed to the degradation of the Brazilian Amazon’s freshwater ecosystem services, which are integral in maintaining long-term water security. Freshwater ecosystems help to cultivate natural plant and animal habitats, regulate floods, prevent erosion and purify human and industrial waste. The global research organisation, World Resources Institute, has promoted the investment of green-grey infrastructure in countries such as Brazil. Green-grey infrastructure combines traditional infrastructure (such as dams and water treatment plants) and natural infrastructure (such as forest protection and landscape management) to strategically manage both long-term water security and ecological preservation.

The Olympics have captured a Brazil that is struggling to deal with its political, economic and environmental issues – particularly in relation to climate change and water security. The Brazilian Government and Olympic organisers have reminded the world about the significance of climate change for the future survival of humanity, but, in doing so, they have drawn attention to the environmental challenges faced by their own country. If it is to overcome these challenges, Brazil must continue to engage with issues that weaken its long-term water security. These issues include: weak enforcement of environmental regulations – particularly in the Amazon, a lack of effective water governance and inadequate water infrastructure systems. A focus on innovative solutions, such as green-grey infrastructure, could also help achieve long-term water security and ecological preservation. With increased global attention, there is increased scope for Brazil to tackle these issues.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, August 10th, 2016 at 7:29 am and is filed under Brazil.  You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.  You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site. 

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