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Educate. Empower. Act. The mission of Project WET is to reach children, parents, educators and communities of the world with water education. We invite you to join us in educating children about the most precious resource on the planet — water.
Around the world, sanitation issues rank among the most complex and intractable problems facing governments, international agencies, NGOs and ordinary people. About 40 percent of the world's population have inadequate sanitation options, leading to illness, environmental damage and reduced quality of life. Rio de Janeiro is one city where sanitation issues—especially in the city's informal settlements, called favelas—remain a challenge, even as the city continues to grow and develop.
Rio's favelas are often built into hills, which means improperly disposed waste can heavily impact watersheds.
Julia Nelson is the Latin America Project Manager for the Project WET Foundation. She has spent the last 18 months working on a water, sanitation and hygiene education project in some of Rio's favelas. Project WET's Water Education Blog asked Julia to explain the complexities of the sanitation issues in Rio.
Water Education Blog (WEB): What sanitation issues are most common in the areas of Rio where Project WET is working?
Julia Nelson (JN): Solid waste management is by far the largest issue in the favelas where we're working, followed by unsafe and inefficient sewage systems. However, the two issues are very much connected. Although all the communities where we are working have city sanitation services, often there is only one pick-up point for the entire community, which forces residents to transport their trash to the communal site. Throwing trash in the streets, usually in the gutters and drainages of the communities, is an accepted practice.
Children in the favelas often end up playing in waste, either in trash that collects on the ground or when they play in waterways polluted with sewage.
Given that our focus communities are all located on Rio's hillsides, the trash washes down during rains and clogs the sewage and city drainage systems and eventually washes into the Rio watershed. The sewers were generally constructed by inhabitants as they built their homes and illegally connected into the water system. For many years the government ignored the favelas, leading to these poorly constructed open sewer lines. The situation has been slowly changing as the government has begun to upgrade pacified favela communities, but it is a complicated and very slow process.
WEB: How do these issues impact water supply in the favelas and in the greater Rio watershed?
JN: Trash and other overflow from the often clogged sewer systems flow directly into the watershed. Guanabara Bay and the ocean act as a catchall, polluting recreational and fishing areas, not to mention harming local wildlife. Since many favelas do not connect to the city sewage system, open sewage can enter watersheds through rivers that run through the favelas. Children often swim and play in the polluted rivers, which puts them at risk for diarrheal and other waterborne diseases such as leptospirosis and a variety of skin conditions.
Rio's coastline and ocean can be protected through better sanitation options.
In Part 2, Julia will explain how Project WET is impacting sanition issues in Rio through education and community involvement.
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