ImageShanty towns in Rio de Janeiro, better known as favelas, started in the 18th century when the former African slaves had no land ownership and were forced to settle in these areas. But it was mainly during the rural exodus in 1970’s that the number of favelas in Rio grew rapidly. And it was still during the 70’s, while Brazil was under military dictatorship, that removal campaigns started and successfully placed over 100,000 residents in public housing projects or back to the rural areas.

Nowadays the number of favelas in Rio has doubled. And because these areas have been illegally occupied, there are many issues involving not only violence and drugs, but overpopulation, pollution leading to diseases and lack of basic infrastructure such as electricity, water and sanitation. Not to mention the great risk of landslides for the residents living on hillsides.

Many investments have been made by local governments to promote the urban development for the favelas and cultural programmes to reduce the gab between social classes. But that doesn’t solve all problems. According to 2009 statistics, 25 thousand families were living dangerously in hillsides. Up until last year 17,4 thousand families have been relocated, and the aim is to relocate the remaining families in the next four years.

Being 2012 a municipal election year, Rio has announced last week the revised plan to reduce the area favelas occupy by at least 5% until 2016. Rio had 46,84 million km2 of favelas in 2008, and has now managed to reduce this number by 2%. The aim is to complete the remaining 3% by 2016.

And for the favelas that are staying, just like the cable car that have been introduced to ‘Complexo do Alemão’, and the public library located on ‘Complexo de Manguinhos’, a project to build escalators and make the access easier for the residents of ‘Rocinha’, ‘Mangueira’, ‘Complexo da Penha’ and ‘Complexo da Tijuca’ is being discussed.

It’s a very controversial situation as the project makes a lot of sense and it’s clearly easy to see improvements are being made with more on its way. This will be a great gift to the city of Rio de Janeiro just in time for the 2016 Olympics. But it doesn’t sound as good if we look at it from the people being evacuated point of view. They’re being re-located to the suburbs further away from opportunity and economic advancement. This could end up increasing the homeless population living in the urban centre of Rio.

You might also want to read: Rio’s favelas to be removed

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