The Paqueta Island Steps In the Discussions for a Sustainable Sanitation System to Protect Guanabara Bay

Photo Credits: Alline Ourique

By: Aikaterini Tsakanika

Last Sunday, the Casa Flor in the picturesque island of Paqueta, hosted  RIO+ Centre, ICMbio and CEDAE for the Itinerate Forum discussion on "Environmental Sanitation and risks to the Public Sanitation of the Island of Paquetá" organized by the movement Baia Viva, the association of the residents of the Paquetá Island MORENA and the organization committee of the Guanabara Festival of Culture, Environment and Action.

Guanabara Bay is the Noah’s Ark

Klinton Vieira Senra, Chief Environmental Analyst at the Ecological Station of Guanabara located in the wider Area of Environmental Protection (Area de Proteção Ambiental - APA) of Guapi-mirim, pointed out the ecological value of the remaining mangroves at the north-eastern coasts of the Guanabara Bay. This tropical vegetation can absorb much more CO2 than the forests and provide other ecological services including prevention from soil erosion and a nutritional environment for the fish stocks to reproduce and for other species to find shelter. Nowadays in 6.000 hectares of mangrove there are 240 species of immigratory birds, 32 species of mammals, 167 species of fish, 34 species of reptiles, mostly all saveguarded by the traditional fishing communities. Also, as inland water from the rivers located into the APA of Guapi-mirim are pouring water into the bay, the north-east area of Guanabara Bay has punctually a very good quality and volume of water. Proposals of the ICMBio for the Guanabara Bay include:

  • The river basin of Guapi-Macacu should be declared as the natural heritage
  • Moratorium on new ventures
  • Restoration of the marginal river protection
  • Planning on the short, medium, long term
  • Immediate protection and recuperation of the rivers that are still in good state
  • Put in effect the conservation units, particularly the Bay of Guanabara as Area of ​​Environmental Protection and Areas

      State Comprehensive Reserve in the state constitution

Guanabara Bay is under threat

Despite its enormous value, parts of the mangrove are yet to be included in the APAs, while are constantly threatened by drainage, urbanization and infrastructure expansion to support the local industries, transportation, including the airport, and other economic activities. Even further, the natural characteristics of Guanabara Bay in has been almost completely altered due to human occupation.

Klinton Vieira Senra reminded the controversies that were generated during the environmental licensing of the industrial complex COPERJ located in close proximity to the APA Guapi-mirim, as the INEA, the public institute responsible for this process, needed to provide with alternative solutions to compensate for the impact of those activities in the petrochemical sector.

Jose Lavrador, local resident and responsible for the Art House in Paqueta, Juxtaposed the historic importance of Ilha Paqueta where was installed the first sewage treatment station in Latin America, with the later practice of throwing sewage in natura in the Guanabara Bay since the deactivation of the station on 1975. Efforts in 1990s for the Paqueta to be included in the treatment system failed to forecast future demand, alternative fonds of energy in case of emergency, nor frequent evasions due to rainfall of the sealevels.  The saturated network until today presents technical problems and the treatment is no longer done in the island. Marcelo Dibe, Director of Internal Management and Water Supply also stated that today there is no capacity of the sanitation system to cover current demand, especially during high touristic season, which leave local people suffering.

Carlos Braz- Director of the technical board of PDBG – CEDAE admitted planning errors and discontinuation of funds to be the primordial causes for the current state of the sanitation system in the metropolitan region of Rio de Janeiro state. So far, 7.5 billion dollars were spent within 30 years concession in the 11 municipalities, leading to the conclusion that sanitation is not so expensive. Though CEDAE are in position to complete those works, often they depend from state and private counterparts that delay the processes turning the projects more expensive. In regard to the Depollution program of the Guanabara Bay (PDGB), Carlos Braz claimed that CEDAE concluded its part, but the necessary expansion of the network depends on the agility of the private sector which has no incentive to mobilize due to the current financial state of Rio de Janeiro.

Conditions for public-public and public-private partnerships need to be improved

All speakers called for Integrated sustainable management of the conservation units and the sanitation system in the metropolitan area that surrounds the Guanabara bay and in the islands, under the precondition of collaboration and pacts among the local government authorities and the public agencies. It is important to incentivize the integration and planning with strategic interlocutors, as shows the case of the Marina da Gloria, a good example of coordination with the municipality of Rio de Janeiro and CEDAE during the Olympic games, according to Carlos Braz.

The strategy of CEDEA was focused on realistic goals and prioritize territories of more demand for sanitation system, while other stations are closed. He set as priority the replacement of collecting trunks where heavily damaged and by-pass emergency solutions until the works are completed. The treatment stations of Alegria, Pavuria and Sarapui were mentioned as success stories of project delivery, though works in the most disadvantaged areas, including Duque de Caxias and Mare, have been discontinued due to lack of public funds.

The pollution of Guanabara Bay is also a Global issue

Lorenzo Casagrande, the Engagement Officer of RIO+ Centre pointed out that the 2030 Agenda and the 17 SDGs can pave the way for those actors to approach a common path for the sustainable development of the coastal and island municipalities in the Rio de Janeiro state (SDG#11) and for the protection of the marine (SDG#14) and inland (SDG# 15) ecosystems in and around Guanabara Bay. In this transformative path all stakeholders are necessary, foremost the local actors, policy makers and the civil society, need to join the global community in its efforts to secure our natural ecosystems.

Public demand for accountability is necessary

            "As a public servant, I have to think the best and the constructive criticism of civil society is welcome"

                                                                                                                     Carlos Braz- Director of the technical board of PDBG – CEDAE                                                     

In this process, the local society can and must play a valuable role. RIO+ Centre is a firm advocate of the participative, creative, and inclusive approaches through which civil society can become a valuable partner in introducing innovative and sustainable solutions for local burning issues.

Often the opportunities for effective participation are limited and punctual in the councils, the national parliament or other public bodies. Also, the public agents of most of the municipalities in Rio de Janeiro state lack the organizational autonomy or the economic viability to generate effective results.  So, despite chronic problems and the absence of public administrative bodies to handle these issues, the island of Paqueta is mobilizing, valuing local entrepreneurs, their culture and the plurality of Guanabara Bay. As Jose Lavrador firmly believes, the Paqueta island is their most valuable asset and deserves a sustainable touristic project to be articulated and generated in order to limit pollution in Guanabara Bay.

Foremost, fishers can be allies for both the environmental protection of the Guanabara Bay and for emergency responses in the coastal environment, thanks to their intergenerational knowledge on the local species and their daily presence in the Guanabara bay. According to Alex Sandro F. dos Santos, President of the Association of free fishers in Tubiacanga, fishers can clean Guanabara Bay fast and cheap: while fishing, they are confronted daily with pollution and solid waste that is gathered in their nets.