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FEATURE A small miracle on day one of sailing: Guanabara Bay looks clean By Georg Ismar and Tatiana Pokorny, dpa

Europe
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Don‘t look now, but Guanabara Bay seems, well, somewhat clean. This is thanks to emergency clean-up measures and their effectiveness will depend on good weather and wind conditions.

Rio de Janeiro (dpa) - It‘s a surprise for the Olympic sailors - and a positive one. On Monday, when they lowered their laser-class boats into the waters at the scenic Marina da Gloria in Guanabara Bay, they found conditions cleaner than ever before.

German laser-class medallist hopeful Philipp Buhl said this: "I saw with my own eyes the garbage containment mats. And I heard that they have set up debris barriers on the rivers."

The measures could add up to much cleaner water and the prospect that the sailors "receive fair races" in the regatta area, he added. But, this would only pertain so long as it doesn‘t rain. When it rains, it changes the river levels and more garbage can be washed into the bay.

Equally surprised was Germany‘s coach of the 49er class team, Max Groy: "At one meter depth we can see the bottom. This is sensational compared with all previous experience here."

Team medical officials also currently see no health risks for the sailors - as long as they can avoid too much direct contact with the water.

Marina da Gloria is the starting point for the sailing events in Guanabara Bay, a picturesque setting surrounded by the hills and the trademark Sugarloaf Mountain. Now, the often harshly-criticised organisers appear to have worked a miracle with their emergency measures.

Rio mayor Eduardo Paes had categorically rejected any suggestion of moving the sailing events to Buzios, 175 kilometres to the east, with a crisp "No way."

Even Erik Heil, the 49er-class helmsman who came down with a bacterial infection from a regatta in the bay a year ago this time, feels better about the situation. "The debate about water quality is no longer an issue for us," he said. "We have often been in Rio. Once there was an incident. Otherwise nothing has happened to us."

Before the Rio games, up to 18,000 litres of untreated water per second flowed into the 412-square-kilometre bay. Its size poses challenges for any possible cleanup. If it rains, and is also windy, then the water quality can quickly change for the worse. From the surrounding mountainous terrain, dozens of tributaries can quickly pour into the bay, bringing substances badly damaging water quality.

When Rio was awarded the games in 2009, Brazil promised that up to 80 per cent of the bay‘s water would be treated and cleansed. Now the talk is about 50 per cent. Even before the decision for Rio, Japan and the United States had, through their development banks, provided a lot of funding for sewage treatment facilities on the bay. But then, several facilities were not linked up to a sewerage network.

So the Brazilians improvised a lot. A pipeline system was installed to prevent untreated and contaminated water from pouring into Marina da Gloria. So-called "Eco-Boats" were sent out to retrieve trash from the water. And, 17 floating barriers were put in place to block garbage from reaching the site.

Nobody goes swimming here. Even worse than the possible dangers for Olympic competitors are the losses suffered by local fishermen, who for years have seen their existence increasingly jeopardized by the pollution. Their fear is that, once the Olympics are over, things will return to their previous miserable state. They worry that after the costly games, Rio will then lack the money for permanent measures to wage battle against toxic wastes, garbage, and dangerous viruses and bacteria.

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