Rio de Janeiro is a city located on Brazil’s south-east coast. It is one of Brazil’s largest settlements with a population of approximately 11.7 million people. The population of Rio de Janeiro has grown for a number of reasons. Natural Increase is one reason for its growth (this is when the birth rate is higher than the death rate). The population has also grown as the result of urbanisation. The has been caused by rural to urban migration. Millions of people have migrated from Brazil’s rural areas to Rio de Janeiro. 65% of urban growth is a result of migration. This is caused by a variety of push and pull factors.
The rapid growth of Rio de Janeiro’s population has led to a severe shortage of housing. Millions of people have been forced to construct their own homes from scrap materials such as wood, corrugated iron and metals. These areas of temporary accommodation are known as favelas in Brazil. The conditions associated with favelas are very poor. Often families have to share one tap, there is no sewerage provision, disease is common and many people are unemployed.
Favelas are located on the edge of most major Brazilian cities. They are located here for a number of reasons. Firstly, this is the only available land to build on within the city limits. Secondly, industry is located on the edge of the cities. Many people need jobs therefore they locate close to factories. Some of these settlements may be 40 or 50 km from the city centre (on the edge of the city), along main roads and up very steep hillsides.
Rochina Favela, Rio de Janerio
Rocinha is the largest favela in Brazil. It is located in the southern zone of the city. It is built on a steep hillside overlooking the city, just one kilometer from the beach. It is home to between 60,000 to 150,000 people (though this could be more).
Self-help schemes – Rocinha, Bairro Project
The authorities in Rio de Janeiro have taken a number of steps to reduce problems in favelas. They have set up self-help schemes. This is when the local authority provide local residents with the materials needs to construct permanent accommodation. This includes breeze blocks and cement. The local residents provide the labour. The money saved can be spent on providing basic amenities such as electricity and water.
Today, almost all the houses in Rocinha are made from concrete and brick. Some buildings are three and four stories tall and almost all houses have basic sanitation, plumbing, and electricity. Compared to simple shanty towns or slums, Rocinha has a better developed infrastructure and hundreds of businesses such as banks, drug stores, bus lines, cable television, including locally based channel TV ROC, and, at one time, even a McDonalds franchise, though it has since closed. These factors help classify Rocinha as a Favela Bairro, or Favela Neighborhood.
Not all people living in Rio de Janeiro are poor. Many wealthy people live close to the CBD.
Approaches to improvement
Site and service schemes
These give people the chance to rent or buy a piece of land. The land is connected to the city by transport links and has access to essential services such as running water. People build their own homes using money from a low-interest loan. This has happened in Rocinha with the Bairro project.
In Rio, schemes like this are restricted by the steep surrounding mountains. Occasional heavy rains can also lead to flooding, impeding development.
The authorities in Rio de Janeiro have set up self-help schemes in the favelas. People are given tools and training to improve their homes. Low-interest loans may be used to help people fund these changes. People may be given legal ownership of the land they live on.
The local authority sometimes provides residents with materials to construct permanent accommodation. Residents provide the labour. The money saved on labour can be spent on providing basic amenities such as electricity and water. Other facilities like schools, health clinics and recreational areas are also provided.
In some schemes residents buy the houses or pay rent. This means those who are unemployed or on very low pay do not benefit.
Today, almost all the houses in Rocinha are made from concrete and brick. Most have basic sanitation, plumbing, and electricity. Compared to other favelas, Rocinha has a better developed infrastructure, including bus links, and hundreds of businesses such as banks, drug stores, cable television, and even its own locally based channel, TV ROC.
These schemes have cost the government in excess of £200 million.
Funding development and improvements to rural areas may help to improve conditions in the city as well. Improving the quality of life and creating greater opportunities in rural areas may prevent people from migrating to urban areas.
Authorities are attempting to transform favelas through a city-wide policy called ‘pacification’.
Stage one - Armed police units, backed by soldiers and marines, go into favelas to drive out criminal gangs. Permanent police presences are established in what had often been no-go areas for security officials.
Stage two - With the shanty town secured, staff from Rio's municipal authority can start to provide social services such as schools, healthcare centres, and rubbish collection.
Complexo do Alemao
With a population of 100,000 people, stretching for more than two miles, the Complexo do Alemao favela is one of the largest favelas in Brazil.
Teleferico do Alemao cable car
Pacification began at the end of 2010, with 300 police officers and troops entering the favela, with tanks and helicopters. They met little resistance, as gang members chose to flee rather than fight.
Opened in 2011, the Teleferico do Alemao cable car system is the most obvious outward example of how the lives of people in Complexo do Alemao have been transformed by pacification.
The cable cars enable residents to get from one end of the favela to the other in just sixteen minutes. To walk it would take two hours, and each local person gets a free return ticket every day. The system also connects to Rio's railway network, enabling the people of Complexo do Alemao to get quickly into the city centre, opening up the opportunity of better paid work than is locally available.
So far thirty of Rio's favelas, including many of the largest, have been pacified since 2008, benefiting a combined population of 400,000. This leaves 1.1 million people living in hundreds of other favelas across the city still to benefit from pacification.