At the intersection of Health & Safety; Brazil and the Olympics

408,000 visitors are expected to flood into Rio De Janeiro this August for the 31st Olympiad according to the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The international community has watched with great concern over the last year as the Brazilian government has continued to construct the massive stadiums and venues for the global event, while encountering obstacle after obstacle. One of the most recent and troubling obstacles, a large outbreak of the Zika virus in April of 2015 has begun to spread rapidly into the neighboring regions, while causing severe concern for Brazilians themselves and ultimately the half million visitors scheduled to arrive in less than 6 months.

The Zika virus is a close relative of dengue and yellow fever, both viruses which trace their origins to Africa and Asia respectively. Zika’s primary vector (mode of transmission) is mosquitoes, making the hot humid equatorial zones of South America, Africa and Asia a prime environment for the virus. As of last week, there have been 3 reported cases of the Zika virus being sexually transmitted, which only further exacerbates the growing concerns over exponential viral vectoring in one of the globe’s unfortunate hotspots for sexual tourism. Furthermore the Zika virus has been strongly suspected of causing microcephaly among developing children, a congenital defect causing a severely impaired and underdeveloped skull which can lead to complications including impaired motor function and intellectual disabilities as the child ages.

No travel advisories have been issued at this time by the Center for Disease Control, however as of the 10th of February, 2016 there have been 52 travel associated Zika virus cases reported with no vector-borne transmissions as of yet. However, on February 18th the World Bank announced it would be making $150 million dollars available for both Latin American & Caribbean countries trying to control the outbreak. If the virus is not contained rapidly and effective, the affected Caribbean countries (already forecasted to suffer losses exceeding 1% of GDP) who rely on tourism as a substantial part of their economy will be forced to endure problems of public perception and concern pushing the forecasted losses even higher.

In addition to the growing concern over Brazil’s current pandemic and the host of contaminants discovered in the host country’s water supply that will be used for a number of the aquatic events in August; the ever present spectre of terrorism casts a looming shadow over the 31st Olympiad.

With the Paris attacks of November 2015 still fresh in the minds of the world and the vast influx of visitors to Brazil, security must be paramount for the Brazilian government in order to ensure a safe and secure olympic games.

In the same way it has in recent history, the Olympics and the incredibly rapid construction of venues and infrastructure in Rio De Janeiro has (just as it did in London, Sochi and Beijing) highlighted the vast schism on social inequalities. However, in Rio stadiums, arenas and Olympic buildings are being constructed on top of favelas (or entire tiered neighborhoods of squatters). Some of which have historically been so violent and dangerous for law enforcement to patrol and enforce the law in, that they have been left to their own devices, leaving the drug lords of the favelas to enforce justice on their terms. With an estimated $150 million dollars generated per month in cocaine sales in some of these favelas, the drug lords and their foot soldiers will assuredly defend their territories, products, and ultimate source of income.

Though a tenuous live-and-let-live agreement between the drug lords in the favelas and Brazilian law enforcement has been in place for many years, the influx of almost half a million visitors bound for the Olympic Games has the possibility for an unfortunate conclusion.

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Jared Matthews is a graduate of Loyola University Chicago where he studied Middle Eastern and North African history and culture. He served in the US Army for six years and did two tours to Afghanistan as US Army infantryman with the 10th Mountain Division.

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