Soccer-Far from World Cup, Manaus poor focus on snakes and garbage


By Marine Hass

MANAUS, Brazil, June 18 (Reuters) - While Brazilian soccer fans watch Neymar's every twist and turn, Venulda Guereiro is watching for another fast-moving character - a cobra snake.

Guereiro and thousands like her live in the poorest neighbourhoods of Manaus in the Amazon jungle, where unusually severe flooding of the Rio Negro has washed in a giant stinking lake of garbage and other unpleasant threats.

"The children are afraid of the cobra because the cobra always comes quietly, it doesn't make any noise. So I find the nights pretty tough," she told Reuters Television in her slum- like wooden shack.

The brand-new Amazonia arena, built to host four World Cup group games, is only a few miles across the city of 1.8 million people but it might as well be on Mars.

Guereiro's daily reality is foul-smelling lakes and rivers of garbage so thick you might be tempted to walk across them. Wood, plastic, dirty diapers, bottles, cigarette packs, coasters, bottles and furniture rot in the ferocious sun.

Residents move from one house to another on wooden walkways installed by local authorities.

Elsewhere in Brazil, there have been violent protests against the amount of money spent on the World Cup amid pressing social concerns. In the poor Beco Jose Casemiro neighbourhood near the centre of Manaus, resignation is the order of the day.

"This is how we live, according to God's will, until the day when God says: 'This one (family) can come out, and this one'," said Guereiro, who has installed a rudimentary walkway inside her shack to keep her feet out of the water.

Authorities are relocating the most vulnerable into new housing on higher ground. Some 3,000 families are most badly affected, spread through 14 of Manaus's 63 districts.

Although the river regularly bursts its banks, officials blame an unprecedented three consecutive years of bad flooding.

"We barely recover from the previous year and then here we are again," said Anibal Gomes, who works in crisis management for the city.

Further to the west, in the Gloria neighbourhood, few people are wearing the Brazil shirts which are omnipresent elsewhere.

Three to four years ago, around 1,000 families lived there. Today, only 130 remain.

"We have so many problems, especially because of the kids. You have garbage that the local authorities do not clean up, we have to live with that, with rats, with contaminated water," said Jamily Araujo.

The city says it collects 800 tonnes of garbage a month.

Paulo da Silva has lived in Gloria for 30 years and is keen to leave. He has put his house up for sale.

"I want to get some money to buy a house over there, higher up, because before we didn't have so much water, and now everywhere is flooded," he said.

The for sale notice mentions two rooms, a kitchen and bathroom. It says nothing about the garbage-infested lagoon right outside. (Writing by David Ljunggren, editing by Ed Osmond)

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