Opinion, by Alfonso Stefanini

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Even during the most modest rainfalls in Rio, storm sewers overflow and sewage mains burst. Not even “Alerta-Rio”, the City Halls environmental warning system loudest conch blow will keep the “dudu” and “kaka” – also two popular nicknames in Brazil – from hitting the ceiling fans in the low-lying sea margin zones throughout the metropolitan area were the majority of the state’s population lives.

Alfonso Stefanini, environmental consultant in Rio de Janeiro.
Alfonso Stefanini, environmental consultant in Rio de Janeiro.

The Guanabara Bay has a complex drainage basin with many rivers flowing under the city’s asphalt tangled with a messy underground infrastructural network system that would require Amerigo Vespucci and Dante’s depicting skills to outline.

To make the already evil-olfactive situation worse for Rio’s citizens from its constant underground city flatulent inferno, exploding manholes are common occurrences from the concoction of faulty natural gas pipes, exposed live electricity lines, and biological gases produced from the uncollected decomposing organic liquid and solid matter.

Only after people are critically hurt, property heavily damaged and entire city blocks turned upside-down, ex post facto mitigation measures are put in place, but always after companies and government entities come to a dickering halt as to who was to blame; in other words, “whoever smelled it dealt it”, sort of juvenile situation, with apparently no chaperone in sight.

CEDAE, the forty-year old state water company that has a fair water distribution system among some of its municipalities but poor sewage collection and wastewater treatment throughout the state, justifies a perfect scenario for privatizing it. The cities of Niteroi and Petropolis in the state of Rio, both with private systems, have some of the best sanitation statistics in the country, while Rio state as a whole is among the worst in the territory.

And while Brazilian President Temer, better known as Latin America’s official count Dracula, along with his chamber of consiglieri Inc. are presently in a remorseless modus operandi privatization frenzy, particularly for the country’s natural resources, their mind control plan of action is undeniably focused more on petroleum futures than on the country’s fecal futures.

Public health issues related to adequate sanitation across the country keeps hampering the countries GDP in single digit numbers, throwing billions of dollars down the drain that could otherwise be invested in a better public education and medical systems in a country currently ill in both.

Rio de Janeiro has received billions of dollars in the past twenty years from international banks such as the Inter-American Development Bank, World Bank and national banks, not to mention the billions it received before the Olympics to build wastewater treatment plants, marine outfall pipes, pumping stations and sewer mains. However, the State still only treats 35 percent of its wastewater.

Not that the treatment plants don’t work, the problem is that the majority of the waste is not collected from its source. Meanwhile in places like California, one of the top ten biggest economies in the world like Brazil, companies are fighting to own every last droplet of sewage to turn it into usable water and valuable material residues.

There are two main types of sanitary system used across cities in the world, dedicated systems and combined sewer systems, and Rio needs both in addition to other technologies, like progressive cavity pump systems for environmentally and historically sensitive areas.

Lets hope that Rio decides to privatize its underground infrastructural wretchedness to stop what looks like a programed industry of illness. One last thing, don’t blame it on the “Rivers of January” or Rio de Janeiro because “whoever spoke last set off the blast.”

Alfonso Stefanini has an MA in International Environmental Policy from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in California, an MBE from COPPE-UFRJ in Rio de Janeiro and a BA from Hampshire College in Massachusetts. Alfonso lives in Rio, and he can be reached at: Ecobrasilis@gmail.com.


  1. Could not agree more. The history of sewage treatment in Rio is a monument to corruption, incompetence and neglect which should have led to enough criminal convictions to fill a prison long ago. The money saved in healthcare costs would contribute significantly to the cost of first stopping the flow of raw sewage, then cleaning up the mess which now exists. Guanabara Bay is a massive museum of diseases and bacteria. Imagine the increased tourism revenue if it were safe to swim here. Rio needs to be embarrassed into action, but apparently the Olympics venue test results were not embarrassing enough. Privatization is not the answer to everything, but it could certainly be no worse than what Rio has now and could potentially lead to a far healthier environment in Rio.

  2. This is the best synopsis I’ve read to date on the sewage problem. The question really is who can provide a road map to privatization and a successful business enterprise within the complex bureaucracy needed to actually get a company started to tackle the issue.

    It seems there are always targets thrown out by the government in Rio and Brazil to clean Guanabara Bay, but no one has ever articulated the steps needed to realistically achieve the goals in such a way as to succeed.


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