Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Rio’s favelas set climate adaptation example

Jan Rocha in Responding to Climate Change:  From a distance the favelas, or shantytowns, of Rio can look colourful and picturesque, clinging to the steep sides of the mountains which rise above the beaches. Some have even been added to the itinerary of the more adventurous tourist. But for the millions who live in them, they can also be places of danger, fear and violence, because of the drug cartels which control them. They are also places of insalubrity and disease, with open sewers, precarious water supplies and overcrowding.

Among the tiny brick houses, crammed one on top of the other, there is no room for trees, gardens, plants or beauty. As they have advanced ever further up the slopes and into the mountains, any remaining vegetation has been chopped down, paving the way for lethal mudslides when the torrential rains of summer strike.

There are an estimated 700 favelas in Rio, home to over a million of the city’s six million people. Global warming is expected to hit the poorest hardest, producing more extreme events like violent rainstorms. Favela dwellers are always the first victims of such downpours.

The Rio authorities have begun efforts to change this scenario, first with a programme of “pacification” – expelling the drug gangs and their militias and establishing community police bases.

This has allowed all the normal services enjoyed by other Rio inhabitants – rubbish collection, regular electricity and sewage and water services, and postal deliveries – to be installed. The normalization of shantytown life has also permitted the beginning of an ambitious project to turn the cramped favelas with their narrow alleys into “green communities”.

The brainchild of Rio`s environmental department, working with a local NGO, the aim is to plant 34 million trees and plants in shantytowns over the next three years, not only to prevent future mudslides, but to provide jobs and incomes for some of the residents...

The Rocinha favela in Rio, shot by paula le dieu, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

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