RIO DE JANEIRO – Days before Brazil celebrates its annual carnival, Rio de Janeiro is facing a drinking water crisis that has forced locals to seek the precious liquid at the statue of Christ the Redeemer.
Every day dozens of people travel from the most remote parts of the city to a spring located near the foot of the giant sculpture that stands on Mount Corcovado to collect drinking water.
The 713-meter high hill is part of a natural park located in southern Rio de Janeiro, the most touristic part of the city.
It is possible to get to Mount Corcovado by train, car and on foot, along specially designed and marked routes.
The spring that provides drinking water can be found on the highest part of the hill.
Access is easy as there is a bus stop there, with a short walk to get to the site.
Those who carry water from the spring are mostly neighbours who live in the nearby favelas, but the area is also frequented by residents from northern and metropolitan areas of the city, such as Penha and Caxias.
“Many people don’t come because they don’t know. Some people charge up to 30 reais – about seven dollars – for a gallon of water. Here we have pure and crystalline water for free,” singer and musician Fabiano Almeida Oliveira told EFE.
Twice a week, Almeida collects about 20 liters of water for his household consumption.
Locals have found tap water provided by the city council impossible to drink.
“No, I don’t drink it. Its taste is terrible,” Maria da Conceiçao said.
Although local health authorities have said the water in Rio is drinkable, its strange taste and smell have put many people off.
After a month of protests, health authorities said they were controlling the levels of geosmin, a natural compound that causes an unpleasant taste.
Another issue is the presence of detergent in water from the Guandu station, the main water supply center in the region.
Geosmin saturation happens when there is a concentration of algae and bacteria in the water but does not create a health risk and is safe to consume, according to the Rio de Janeiro State Company for Water and Sewage.
This type of algae was detected at a water collection point in the Guandu River, which supplies 75 per cent of the population in the Rio metropolitan area, where more than 8.5 million people live.
Although geosmin is not toxic, experts at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro University said it can be an indicator of water quality problems since it is produced by bacteria that grow in aquatic environments with high concentrations of nutrients, especially in springs that receive untreated sewage.
In a bid to reduce the presence of geosmin, the regional government has implemented the use of activated carbon but has not said how long it will take to solve the problem.
Prices of bottled water have rocketed due to drinking water scarcity while stomach and skin problems have appeared among locals, especially in the northern and western areas.
Between Dec. 20, 2019 and Jan. 5, 2020, health centers in Santa Cruz and Campo Grande recorded more than 1,300 cases of diarrhea, gastroenteritis and vomiting, double the number during the same period the year before, according to the regional Health Secretary.