A poor Brazilian neighborhood builds its own waste treatment system

A poor neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, has independently built a waste treatment system in an effort to make the area healthier.

Proponents say the system could serve as a model for small communities across Brazil.

The Enchanted Valley community, just outside Tijuca Forest National Park in Rio de Janeiro, recently built its own waste treatment system.

The Enchanted Valley is one of the poorest neighborhoods in Rio de Janeiro. The Brazilian word for such a neighborhood is favela.

The area did not have electricity until the late 1900s. And the Enchanted Valley had never been connected to the city waste network. The waste was polluting the local environment and endangering the health of the inhabitants of the Enchanted Valley.

As a result, the community set out to solve the problem on their own. She built a local waste treatment system called a biodigester. A artificial a wetland was built to treat the wastewater created by the 40 families in the area.

Theresa Williamson runs Catalytic Communities, a non-profit group that supports poor communities. She said the system began full operation in June and is the first independently built biosystem for a favela in Brazil.

Official data indicates that 45% of Brazilians’ wastewater is not collected.

The Enchanted Valley project lasted for years. Otávio Barros is president of a group representing the local population. He had the idea to build a sewage system when he brought a group of tourists at a nearby waterfall in 2007. They wanted to get in the water, but he told them they couldn’t. He knew that all the sewage from the community flowed into the waterfall.

Then Barros started looking for help to build a waste treatment system. He found allies among researchers at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro. He worked there as an administrative assistant.

He told The Associated Press: “It was harder in those days to get people awareshow that everyone would do benefit to.”

Otavio Alves Barros walks past the Enchanted Valley community bio-wastewater treatment system outside the Tijuca National Forest in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, June 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Bruna Prado)

He and his allies got money from the state of Rio de Janeiro. This research support led to the completion of the first stage in 2015. The effort also received financial support from German and Brazilian nonprofit groups Viva Con Agua and Instituto Clima e Sociedade to connect every household. And it received additional funding from Catalytic Communities.

Barros worked with five other neighborhood residents for months, including three weeks drilling rock to lay pipes.

The pipes lead to the biodigester. Wastewater is treated there by microorganisms that do not need oxygen. The remaining fluids then flow under the man-made wetlands, cleaning themselves up by fertilizing the plants above.

The total price of the system was around $42,300. That’s a quarter of what it would have cost to lay pipes through the forest to the existing sewer system at sea level, Leonardo Adler said. He is a founding partner of Taboa Engenharia, which supervised the technical part of the work.

The federal government has a plan to improve wastewater treatment throughout Brazil. He plans to do it privately concessions large areas in cities. But that plan doesn’t help small, remote communities like Enchanted Valley.

Barros said he was very happy because it was a very difficult step to bring in partners and “involve the community to capture the waste water and put it back into the clean environment”. He said, “It’s part of a dream to become reality“, and added:” We have more for the valley.

I am Caty Weaver.

David Biller reported this story for The Associated Press. Gregory Stachel adapted it for VOA Learning English.


words in this story

waste – nm waste (such as urine and human feces) that is drained from homes and other buildings through a pipe system

artificial –adj. created or caused by people and not by nature

sightseeing – nm a person who goes to a place for pleasure

aware – adj. knowing that something (such as a situation, condition, or problem) exists

benefit to – v. be helped

concessions – nm the right to sell something or do business on property that is owned by the government or another company or person

reality – nm the real situation that exists


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