In Manaus, the largest city in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest, tons of fetid garbage fill the canals and streams, giving the feeling of visiting a post-apocalyptic wasteland.
On the west side of the city, in a slum where houses are built on stilts, a worker uses an excavator to pick up a bucketload of bottles, plastic parts and even household appliances that have been thrown into the water.
Not far from the city’s main port, community workers in orange uniforms collect trash from a boat and pile it onto a large barge floating on the Rio Negro, one of the Amazon’s major tributaries.
With the rising water level heralding the end of the rainy season, the piles of rubbish are often mixed with leaves and branches.
Almost 30 tons of debris are taken out of the water every day. In some places the water is almost completely covered.
The massive influx of garbage into Manaus’ waterways occurs around this time every year, but city authorities believe the situation has worsened in recent weeks.
From January to May, city workers removed 4,500 tons of trash, most of which could be recycled rather than dumped in the river.
“People who live on the banks throw garbage straight into the streams… few throw it in the garbage,” says Antonino Pereira, a 54-year-old Manaus resident, who complained about the unbearable stench.
According to the city’s undersecretary for sanitation, Jose Reboucas, the city could earn a million reais (about $1.2 million) a month.
“The awareness of the population will greatly benefit our city and, above all, our environment,” he told the AFP news agency.
The Amazon also faces a major threat from deforestation, with more than 3,750 square kilometers (1,450 sq mi) of jungle cleared since the beginning of the year.
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