By Elise Vaux
When the Portuguese founded the port of Paraty in southern Brazil in the early 18th century, the streets were laid out in a design that exploited the Atlantic Ocean, with the twice-daily tide flowing in and then out of the cobbled lanes, washing any accumulated waste out to sea. Unfortunately, Paraty’s sanitation system in the early 21st century, at least for the moment, does not look much different.
While walking to the historic district on Tuesday, we noticed fish surfacing in the Perequê-Açú River directly across from our pousada to nibble on drifting feces. Near a floating dead rat, the water was laced with suds that almost surely came from someone’s laundry. Crossing a bridge, we met Marcos Antonio, a local fisherman waiting for a school of fish to pass, then tossing his net into the water. The net came up empty, which, in a way, may have been a good thing.
City officials told us that an ambitious new water treatment project – both for drinking water and wastewater — would begin rolling out in two to four years. But that is of little comfort to locals and to town health officials, who said they were doing the best they could for now by pushing public education programs on how to avoid water-borne illnesses.
It’s also scant comfort given that officials project a surge of 200,000 tourists this June as World Cup attendees explore the region.
We can see no way to reconcile that pulse of people with the conditions we witnessed this week.