Portugal’s best-kept secret’

Despite the fact that Portugal is European champion in bicycle production, as to physical exercise the country is at the very bottom of the league table.

The Portuguese exercise the least in Europe. Almost three quarter (73%) say they never exercise or do any kind of sport – against 45% of the Europeans – according to the Eurobarometer of Sport and Physical Activity.

At the other extreme are the Finns with over 70% admitting to exercising or playing sports at least once a week, followed by Luxembourg (63%) and the Netherlands (60%).

This low physical activity contrasts heavily with the country’s bicycle production. In 2021, 13.5 million bicycles were produced in the European Union, with Portugal leading the ranking (2.9 million). Other main bicycle producers in the EU are Romania (2.5 million) and Italy (1.9 million).

The international news channel BBC highlighted Portugal as being ‘Europe’s best-kept secret for cycling’. The bicycle industry – mainly producing for export – currently includes around 60 factories with almost 8,000 people employed. One of the advantages of domestic production is the possibility of offering EU customers much shorter supply chains than competing Asian manufacturers.

The pandemic has been the main driving force behind the industry’s continued growth. ‘Covid has brought new opportunities to the sector as it ended up encouraging healthier lifestyles across Europe, explains Gil Nadais, secretary-general of Portugal Bike Value, who expects the industry to grow between 20% and 30% this year.

Even with only a tiny fraction of the urban population using a bicycle for commuting, Fernando Chicarini, the owner of Lisbon’s oldest bicycle shop – Armazéns Airaf, founded in 1951 – is optimistic as his sales have soared 40% since the start of the pandemic.

However, one of the main problems in the country is that road safety in urban centers continues to be bad and the percentage of road fatalities in Portugal particularly high when compared to other European countries. A situation that has not significantly improved in recent years.

Those who pedal are mostly men of working age, able to face the busy car traffic. The number of women though is important because they are the ones who give the most attention to safety issues. In Lisbon, women represent a quarter of those who cycle on a daily basis, which corresponds to the EU average.

So, the challenge for the coming years will be to effectively get more Portuguese on a bike. Cycling – in addition to promoting general well-being – helps to reduce car use and air pollution. Moreover, regular cycling (45 km a week) almost halves the incidence of heart disease and cancer.

Enjoy the week            Boa semana                          (pic Público/Sapo)


Environmental noise is linked to depression, anxiety, and heart disease

According to WHO, ambient noise is, after air pollution, the second biggest environmental cause of health problems. Prolonged exposure to noise provokes sleep disturbance, stress, headache, and concentration problems – eventually leading to chronic conditions such as depression, anxiety, and heart disease.

Last month the Government announced a temporary annulment of restrictions on night air traffic between 00.00 and 06.00, requested by the country’s air traffic control company between the 18th of October and 29th of November, in order to implement its new Top Sky control system. This means an extra 425 night flights in six weeks.

Environmental associations ZERO, Quercus and Geota strongly oppose this exceptional move and consider it illegitimate to sacrifice the population of Lisbon and Loures – approximately 150.000 citizens – with intolerable noise levels – of more than 65 decibels – at night.

The environmentalists state that not only is the current regime of night-time restrictions disrespected -with already 50% more night-time flights than legally established – but also that noise thresholds in the vicinity of the airport are constantly exceeded, making Lisbon’s Humberto Delgado one of the worst European airports to noise from air traffic.
Moreover, people living close to the airport are exposed to high concentrations of ultrafine nanoparticles giving rise to pulmonary problems in adults and cognitive problems in children.

For many years already, residents of downtown neighborhoods in Lisbon (i.e. Bairro Alto, Cais de Sodré, and Santos) are complaining about excessive noise in bars and on the streets.

A stricter policy from the municipality is warranted based on experiences from other European cities – such as Barcelona – where fines of up to 600 euros are given for anyone caught drinking alcohol on the streets. In the meantime, the City Council has created a noise hotline (Linha Ruido 808 910 555) to denounce rowdy gatherings, with calls going straight to the police.

Light pollution is a worldwide problem associated with a harmful impact on health (sleep disturbance) and ecosystems (migration of birds, disappearance of insects and bats). With regard to this, the tiny island of Corvo in the Azores will turn off the public lighting system at night to protect its endangered seabirds.

Portugal scores the worst in Europe regarding light pollution, both in terms of luminous flux per capita and per gross domestic product (GDP). In fact, the country uses on average four times more light than Germany or Switzerland!

But not only are we using more light, the transition to blue-white light emitted with the introduction of energy-efficient LED lamps, will further increase its negative impact on the environment.

Enjoy the week            Boa semana                 (pic Público/Sapo)


‘Someone who abuses a child cannot be priest’

Little by little it’s becoming clear that Catholic priests in Portugal have sexually abused children for decades. The scandal that hit the headlines in France last year encouraged the opening of an inquiry in Portugal in January.

Since then the ‘Independent Commission to Study Sexual Abuse Against Children in the Catholic Church of Portugal’ has heard of hundreds of priests having sexually abused children since the 1950s. Child psychiatrist Pedro Strecht – who is leading the commission – declared that stories emerging ‘reveal suffering, which in some cases have been hidden for decades.’

Although the majority of these crimes have expired, that doesn’t change the fact that many leaders in the Church smothered scandals of the past that are now coming to light. Even when families came forwards with allegations, priests were being transferred to other parishes where further abuse against minors continued.

This summer has seen a dispute of a pedophile priest in Lisbon who remained in service of the Church for another 30 years. Not only the Vatican is understood to have known, even Lisbon’s Cardinal Patriarch Manuel Clemente was aware of the priest’s activity but chose not to act on the information.

In the meantime, the cleric continued not only as a priest but also as a leader of an organization that cares for children.

During the last month’s allegations of sexual abuse within the Portuguese Catholic Church have increased. D. José Ornelas – Bishop of Fátima and president of the Portuguese Episcopal Conference – is being investigated by the Public Ministry over suspicions that he helped cover up alleged pedophilia involving two Italian priests at an orphanage in Mozambique in 2011.

About the incident, he declared that ‘he did everything he could to clarify the case (inquiries were archived with neither priest being sanctioned). However, the country’s best-read tabloid Correio de Manhã reported a complaint by a Portuguese teacher at the orphanage, emphasizing the inaction of the bishop.

All this comes at a sensitive moment with the Pope due to travel to Portugal next year for World Youth Day and the Commission passing at least 17 complaints to the Public Ministry (most complaints were too outdated to tackle) from which so far 10 inquiries have been opened.

The Commission recently reported that in the past 9 months 432 testimonies by victims have been received but Pedro Stecht warned that the real number of victims will be much higher than those that have come forwards until now. According to the very catholic president, Marcelo Rebelo da Sousa ‘400 cases didn’t seem particularly high’. A not very empathetic statement that provoked widespread criticism from each and everyone in the media.      

Enjoy the week                     Boa semana                 (pic Público/Sapo)


‘Bottled water is a shame’

Portuguese are champions in the consumption of bottled water with 140 liters per person per year. That is 14 times more than the Swedes, 5 times more than the Dutch, and 3 times more than the British. Bottled water is not only very expensive, but plastic bottles also mean a huge burden on the environment.

Tap water in Portugal is safe, just like in most EU countries. According to Science Alert ‘water from the tap or water from the bottle are virtually identical for most people as far as their health is concerned. The bottled water industry, however, is driven by health concerns regarding drinking water.  

Bottled water costs on average 300 times more than tap water. The first documented case of bottled water being sold was at a time public water was not safe to drink. It was in Boston USA in the 1760s when a company called Jackson Spa sold mineral water for therapeutic use.

The bottling and selling of water are one of the most lucrative ideas in retail marketing. The bottled water industry has worldwide an increasing market of over $20 billion per year and the rate at which it expands is around 10% per year.

More than half of the time these companies are using local ‘tap’ water, filtering it with standard techniques, and selling it at inflated prices. They are making billions of profits, whereas you can get the product out of your tap virtually for free.

Plastic bottles are made from by-products of crude oil.
Unlike other plastic materials that are reused over time – in Europe circa 30% of plastic is recycled – plastic bottles are typically used once and then disposed of.

Add this to the cost of transporting vast quantities of bottled water around the country, if not across Europe, and you will understand that we are not only contributing to global warming but also being deliberately wasteful.

Over 13 million tons of plastic – a truckload every minute – are annually dumped in our oceans and plastic makes up 85% of marine litter and waste found on our beaches.

The plastic soup in the meantime has reached a size equivalent to 17 times the surface of Portugal and microplastics are not only killing fish but also invading our bodies through the food chain.
Nevertheless, the production of plastic is still on the increase.

Enjoy the week            Boa semana                 (pic Púlico/Sapo)


‘The Portuguese history is not just white, Mocambo may not remain forgotten’.

Around 1500 King Manuel I decided to give the monopoly of slave trafficking in the Portuguese empire to Lisbon. For two and a half centuries circa 10% of the population in the capital consisted of black slaves, performing the hardest tasks. In one of the western districts, next to the Tagus river, between Bairro Alto and  Madragoa – the first African neighbourhood of Europe was born.

It was here that many Africans – enslaved or freed – found shelter. Mocambo – a word in Umbundu (one of several Angolan languages ) meaning ‘place of refuge’ – became in the 16th century one of the most populated neighbourhoods in Lisbon. Away from the white Portuguese gaze, the place was essential for African memories and the preservation of social and religious practices (weddings, funerals)  

Those who lived there worked in the maintenance of Lisbon’s public places. Sweepers, water distributors, whitewashers – preserving the houses, monuments, and sidewalks. The black or mulatto women worked as a maid or ran barefoot all over the capital to sell fish or coal.  

It is from the 16th century onwards that the arrival of enslaved Africans gave rise to physical and social rejection (‘black as coal’, ‘smelly, ‘ugly’) An image of the African slave, as inferior, and subordinate was established. For a long time, looking at black people were looked at as an ethnic group that was not worthy of being studied.

In Madragoa – where the Portuguese tradition was born of covering façades with tiles to protect property from the humidity rising from the Tagus – there are still some reminders of slavery. Next to the Santa Catarina church, is the Cruz de Pau (‘Wooden Cross’), the place of punishment inflicted on the enslaved. Rua do Poço dos Negros (‘Black Wells Street’) was the place where King Manuel had a well-built, where the dead bodies of the enslaved were thrown in.

One of the most remarkable moments in Mocambo happened in 1882 when the Queen of CongoDona Maria Amália I – stayed there along with her entourage. She had traveled to Portugal to pay homage to the king of Portugal but it were the ‘amazing’ African festivals in Mocambo, that caught the attention of the newspapers.

At the same time, the descriptions of Mocambo changed from ‘one of the best suburbs of Lisbon’ to a ‘dirty’ place, full of ‘epidemics’. The neighbourhood began to receive more and more fishermen and Africans headed to other parts of the country, especially after slavery was abolished in Portugal in 1773.

Maps from the late 19th century no longer show any reference to Mocambo. All that remains is Casa Mocambo with an African restaurant and an Art Gallery. A stage for African Lisbon where film cycles dedicated to the black community are organized, as well as theatre sessions and concerts by African musicians. ‘We have such a mixed Lisbon and all we talk about is white Lisbon. I want to change that’, explains the owner Mafalda Nunes.

Enjoy the week            Aproveite a semana                (pic Público/Sapo)


We are often accused of being lazy’

Leaving the parental home is considered a milestone in the transition from childhood to adulthood. The reasons behind this step may vary from being materially independent to studying, working, moving in with a partner, getting married, or having children.
Portuguese men and women seem to remain forever young and stay with their parents for quite some time. In fact, making them the oldest to leave home in Europe.

According to Eurostat the average age at which youngsters leave their home in the EU is 26,5 years but varies greatly between member states. Although Portugal (33,6 years) records the highest average age of young people leaving their parents’ home, Sweden has the lowest (19 years). A difference of more than 14 years!

This disparity reflects the various challenges young people face across Europe as well as cultural differences between countries.

On average young women (25,5 years) move out of their parental household some two years earlier than men (27,4 years) and countries where young people leave home at an older age are more likely to have a lower force rate of participation.

For youngsters in Portugal, housing and income are the biggest challenges. The scenario is well known: buying a house is nearly impossible (prices have increased by 50% in the last five years), rents are far too high, wages do not grow at the same pace and there are more and more obstacles to accessing credit. Moreover, inflation is skyrocketing and energy prices increasing by the day.

Sociologist Lia Pappamikail believes that living with parents should not be perceived as a negative thing.
‘The two things can be reconciled: I can be perfectly independent and live at home with my parents. This does not mean that I am not autonomous; it means that I can do what I want and also have the resources to do it’

However, this does not apply to everyone explains Ana Lopes, a 26-year-old occupational therapist. ‘We are often accused of being lazy. But in reality, it is the external conditions that make the process of leaving home complicated. I get along very well with my parents but what I really want is my own space, a place to be myself and build my life’.
Susana Peralta, professor of Economics at the Nova School of Business and Economics, agrees with her. ‘We are less free when we live together. You are never as free as when you are alone’.

Enjoy The Week                    Boa Semana                 (pic Público/Sapo)


A country that hesitates over the care of those giving birth is a country without direction’.

The crisis hitting Obstetric services in Portugal drags on this summer with limited services and even straightforward closures of State (National Health Service) Maternity Units during the weekends, including hospitals of reference in the Greater Lisbon area.

Pregnant women either make do on their own or have to go to private hospitals, where more than half of the doctors specializing in obstetrics are working.

The country’s tabloid Correio da Manhã commented that ‘something is wrong in a country with a shrinking population, that cannot guarantee the minimum conditions for its babies to be born safely and obliges pregnant women with obstetric emergencies to travel irresponsibly long distances because the closest maternity bloc is closed due to lack of doctors.

The reason for the public consternation was the recent loss of a baby whose 41-year-old mother in labor was forced to travel 100 km before reaching a functioning maternity hospital.

The Nurses’ Order and the NGO Observatory for Obstetric Violence are urging the Health Minister Martha Temido to put in place the European directive to give specialist nurses – who have the skills required to oversee low-risk pregnancies in primary care centers – the autonomy they are calling for, at the same time reducing the total dependence on hospital care.

There are currently 3,182 specialist nurses whose potential is being wasted in this regard.

The lack of medical specialists and obstetric care is not only affecting perinatal care but also maternal mortality, which has reached its highest level since 1982. Last year – with 85,000 live births – 17 pregnant women died due to complications of pregnancy ( 8 during pregnancy, 1 during childbirth, and 8 within six weeks after delivery). Thirteen occurred in hospital, a mere 3 were 40 years or older.

Moreover, instrumental vaginal birth (with help of a vacuum extractor or forceps) is three times (31%) higher in Portugal than the European average (11%). Episiotomies (incisions made in the perineum to enlarge the birth canal) are also more frequent and amount to 41%, twice the European average (20%).

These are the main conclusions of a European study including more than 21.000 women from 12 countries and published in the February issue of The Lancet Regional Health – Europe.
‘We have an exacerbated use of the these unnecessary practices similar to countries with a poor quality of care’, declared Raquel Costa, one of the researchers at the Institute of Public Health at the University of Porto.

Enjoy the week                                             Boa semana                          (pic Público/Sapo)


Last month marked the 650th anniversary of the Treaty of Tagilde, which led to the formation of the Anglo-Portuguese Alliance – the oldest alliance in the world still in force. Only a small stone memorial in Tagilde (Vizela), reminds us that more than six centuries ago the northern village in the Braga district was the site of a historic pact, signed at its church of São Salvador on July 10, 1372.

Its importance was underscored when the Portuguese prime minister António Costa recently met Boris Johnson to sign an agreement on foreign policy, education, security, and trade.

They inspected the original version of the treaty – which had been moved to Downing Street for the occasion by the National Archives – and commemorated the alliance that has not only survived world wars, the rise and fall of empires, and decolonization but also promoted pleasures such as port and tea.

It all started with an English claim for the throne of Castile, Portugal’s old foe.
That is not absurd as it sounds as England had large possessions in the southwest of France that bordered Castile.

The treaty was signed by King Ferdinand I of Portugal and John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster and third son of the English King Edward III. The document is written in the original Castilian language to reflect John’s claim to the Castilian throne.
The Anglo-Portuguese Alliance agreed that both England and Portugal would wage war against Castile on two fronts; the English on the north and the Portuguese on the west. In 1385, the Portuguese army, with help from English archers, defeated Castilian forces in the Battle of Aljubarrota.

More than three centuries later, Catherine of Braganza, daughter of King John IV of Portugal married King Charles II of England in 1662 to become queen.
She helped to popularise tea in England and supported the Methuen treaty in 1703, which bolstered the port trade. She is also said to have made popular orange marmalade and the use of the fork.

To end with, the alliance played an important role in World War II when Britain was given facilities in the Azores to help in the Battle of the Atlantic against German submarines. But it also survived difficult times such as the 1890 British Ultimatum, which forced the retreat of Portuguese forces from areas in Africa that had been claimed by Portugal but occupied by Britain.

Enjoy the week            Boa semana                          (pic Público/Times)


That the sea unites, no longer separates’ – Fernando Pessoa

Nearly 80% of the world’s wastewater is discharged into the sea without treatment, and plastic makes up 85% of marine litter. Today 11 to 12 million tons of plastic waste enter the oceans every year. If nothing is done this number will double in 2030.

According to the scientific journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences), more than 8 million tons of plastic are associated with the Covid-19 pandemic, of which a large amount ended up in the sea.

Between 1946 and 1993, the oceans were abused as a nuclear waste dump. The US government conceded to the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) that up until 1970, the country had disposed of 90,000 barrels at different locations in the Pacific and North Atlantic. After the fall of the Iron Curtain, the USSR admitted to IAEA that in Soviet times, around 1,9000,000 cubic meters of nuclear waste disappeared in the Arctic Sea and almost 150,000 cubic meters went into the Pacific Ocean and Baltic Sea.

Nobody was able to provide exact numbers for the amount of radioactive waste that was dumped. Protests by Greenpeace finally brought about change and in 1994 all countries that had previously used the oceans as a nuclear dump signed a moratorium that still stands today.

However, the metal barrels were not designed to ensure a permanent containment of radioactivity at depths of several thousand meters and there is proof of burst barrels and contamination of seawater.

Speaking at the opening of the 2nd UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon – hosted by Portugal and Kenya and attended by more than 7000 people from 142 countries – secretary general António Guterres said that ‘we cannot have a healthy planet without a healthy ocean’ and that the ‘egoism of nations is hampering efforts to agree on a long-awaited treaty to protect the world’s oceans’. Of the 64% of the high seas that lie beyond territorial limits, only 1,2% are currently protected.

Portuguese PM António Costa committed to classifying 30% of the country’s marine areas by 2030 and to recognize the oceans as a source of decarbonization and energy autonomy. In this regard, he wants to reach a 10-gigawatt capacity for renewable ocean energies by 2030.
‘I hope – he said – this Lisbon Conference will be a milestone in humanity’s reunion with the oceans’.

One of the most salutary interventions, however, came from a Brazilian biologist, who stressed ‘the world’s seas are sick because society is sick’.

Enjoy the week            Aproveite a semana                        (pic Público/Sapo)


‘Two-thirds of our electricity comes from renewable sources’

Portugal has ‘decarbonized’ from burning coal. In January 2021 the coal-fired power plant located in Sines was closed and the power plant in Pego (Abrantes) shut down in November. However, according to the tabloid Correio da Manhã, both companies continue to produce electricity from the burning of coal in Spain, from where it is imported into Portugal.

Two-thirds of the electricity in Portugal nowadays comes from renewable sources: hydroelectric(28%), wind (24%), solar (8%), and biomass (7%).

The country’s current photovoltaic solar capacity of 1775 megawatts (MW) was increased by 700 MW last year, the biggest increase ever. In wind energy, 2021 was also an excellent year with 126 MW more wind power than in the previous year.

Portugal’s largest solar power plant was inaugurated in the mountainous terrain of the Serra do Caldeirão in Alcoutim (Eastern Algarve). The 660,000 panels generate enough electricity (220 megawatts) to power 200.000 homes.

Europe’s largest floating solar power plant in a hydroelectric dam – located in the Alqueva reservoir – will start operating next month. The 12,000 floating solar panels – with a size of four soccer fields – have a capacity of 5 MW.

In the Atlantic – 20 kilometres off the coast of Viana do Castelo – there are three giant wind turbines. One of them – 190 metres high – is the tallest in the world. They are set on floating platforms attached with 40 metres long chains to the seabed and in operation since 2020. The turbines are capable of supplying around 60.000 homes with electricity every year.

In March the government approved the acquisition of 10 electric ferries, connecting Lisbon with Seixal, Montijo, Cacilhas and Trafaria across the Tagus river. With these vessels, the shipping company saves around 5.3 million litres of diesel corresponding to an emission of 13 thousand tons of CO2.

The port of Sines will be the stage for a mega-investment of 1.3 billion euros in green hydrogen and ammonia to be produced from renewable sources. The hydrogen (H2) project will install an electrolysis capacity of 500 MW allowing an annual production of 70 thousand tons of green hydrogen. The ammonia project combines green hydrogen and nitrogen to produce green ammonia, an essential component for the fertilizer industry.

Portugal’s first lithium refinery will be sited in Setúbal. The production – with an initial capacity of 30,000 tonnes of lithium per year, enough to create batteries for 700,000 electric vehicles – will start by the end of 2025.

‘Energy powering of the plant will be green’ – stated the Portuguese Galp consortium – ‘minimising dependency on natural gas’. Nothing in GALP’s statement, however, refers to the fierce opposition in the Portuguese communities, that have been earmarked for lithium mining!

Enjoy your week          Aproveite a semana               (pics PtRes,Ptnews)