Home One community How a Rio favela recovered its drinking water, for $42,300

How a Rio favela recovered its drinking water, for $42,300


RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) – Butterflies and waxbills fly through the Enchanted Valley just outside Tijuca Forest National Park in Rio de Janeiro. There are fruit trees, a waterfall nearby, and stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean. But for decades, something has spoiled the romance: the stench of raw sewage.

Electricity arrived in the late 20th century in the low-income community of Enchanted Valley – which takes its name from a nearby residential project – but the utility never hooked it up to the city’s sewer system. town. The waste contaminated the local environment and put the health of the inhabitants at risk.

The community therefore set out to solve the problem on its own by building a biodigester and an artificial wetland to treat all the wastewater generated by all of its 40 families.

It began full operations in June and is the first independently built biosystem for an entire Brazilian favela, according to Theresa Williamson, executive director of Catalytic Communities, a nonprofit that supports underserved communities. And this could serve as an example for the rural hamlets of Brazil. According to official data, 45% of Brazilians’ wastewater is not collected.

The Enchanted Valley project is years in the making. The president of the local residents’ association, Otávio Barros, led a group of tourists to the descent of a waterfall in 2007 and, when they wanted to bathe in its waters, he told them that they could not not ; all of the community’s sewage passed through this waterfall. The seed of an idea was planted, however, and he began to find support.

“It was harder back then to raise awareness, to show that everyone would benefit,” he told The Associated Press as he scoured the community.

He found allies among researchers at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro, where he worked as an administrative assistant. They got money from the Rio State foundation to support research to complete a first phase in 2015, and more recently from German and Brazilian non-profit organizations Viva Con Agua and Instituto Clima e Sociedade to connect every home, with additional funding from Catalytic Communities.

Barros worked alongside five other residents of the neighborhood for months, including about three weeks during which they were just drilling rocks to create a path for new pipes. They lead to the dome-shaped biodigester, where wastewater is ingested by anaerobic microorganisms. The remaining fluids then continue to meander under the constructed wetland, cleaning themselves up by fertilizing the plants above.

The total price of the system was around 220,000 reais ($42,300). That’s a quarter of what it would have cost to run pipes through the forest to the existing sewer system at sea level, according to Leonardo Adler, founding partner of Taboa Engenharia, who oversaw the technical aspect of the work.

The federal government has a plan to improve wastewater treatment throughout Brazil, which it is pursuing through private concessions of large urban areas. But that approach doesn’t help small, isolated communities like Enchanted Valley, where the sewage smell is now gone and its nearby waterfall is clean for swimming.

“I am very happy because it was a very difficult step to succeed in bringing in partners, involving the community to capture the waste water and put it back into the clean environment,” Barros said. “It’s part of a dream come true. We have others for the Valley.