Favelas in Rio de Janeiro

Brazilian urban slums, known as favela, resulted from rapid urbanization in Rio de Brazil, and present many health and safety problems but the government failed to improve the situation because of housing crisis, unevenly divided resources in Rio, and inefficient programs.

Located on the outskirts of countries’ largest cities, like Rio de Janeiro, were originally formed by impoverished former slaves in the late 19th century, but proliferated by migration from 1940s to 1970s.

From 1950 to 2015, the percentage of Brazilian population living in urbanization jumped from 36.5% to 87.5% and it is estimated that by 2030, up to 90.5% of the population will live in cities. As Brazilian government try to expand metropolises, the rural poor found themselves relegated below the elite in the city center. The poor squeeze into urban areas for job opportunities, higher qualities of education, and health care but it turns out they may live in crowded and dangerous favelas. For example, approximately two million individuals, 22.03 percent of population, live in favelas of Rio De Janeiro.

Social Divides and Urbanization in Brazil

Favelas in Rio are dangerous and crude; they are built on steep slope where buildings can’t be built on. They are mainly made of cardboard, corrugated iron or scrap wood, which offer little protection from elements and can’t support homes safely. Majority of them lack in water, electricity or a safe means of sanitation so favelas are susceptible to disease outbreaks. They are always far from shops, schools or transportation routes as well.

Image result for favela rio

Rocinha is the largest favela in Rio de Janeiro. It is estimated that anywhere from 150 thousand to 300 thousand residents crowded in the 0.8 square miles of Rocinha. Houses in Rocinha are built nine, ten, or eleven stories tall to fit 21 neighborhoods.


Due to lack of infrastructure, especially sanitation, Rocinha is ranked 120 out of the 126 neighborhoods in Rio on the Human Development Index. People in Rocinha suffered from tuberculosis and other contagious diseases as other favelas. Another major problem with Rocinha is that the population of Rocinha is younger and less educated than other favelas. Violence is a major concern here. Due to Wrld Cup and Olympics in 2016, Rocinha’s young population connects more to the world around and looks for a better future with better education, less violence and less disease.


Cities lack enough spaces to accommodate migrant people and the situation is worsened by the Brazilian housing crisis. The housing shortage around 7 million units, most among those earning less than minimum wage.  In fact, Brazil has enough housing but the most housing estates exist vacant in urban centers for real-estate investment. Housing investments exist mainly in more wealthy urban areas where favela residents can’t afford. The resources that are supposed to be devoted to favelas remain stagnant in city centers.

The Brazilian government has run multiple programs to eliminate or reduce favela violence problem in Rio but they all failed. In 1930s and 40s, the government launched a favela removal program to redistribute all the favela residents but it failed to solve the root problem of Rio’s housing shortage. The favela’s population continued to grow steadily during 1960s, 60s, and 70s. The government constantly redistributed residents during these years but the result wasn’t satisfying. As a result, the government officials eventually decided that a complete elimination of favela was impossible. In 1998, the Pacifying Police Unit(UPP) program was launched, which stationed 9,500 officers in 37 favelas, serving nearly 780,000 people.

It sought to end violent confrontation between rival gangs by getting weapons out of the favelas and maintaining a permanent police presence. At first the program worked and the homicide rates went down largely.

But overtime police officers have gradually reduced the practice of community policing and become more repressive. Tension between the police and residents rose. By 2015, armed gangs had returned to once-pacified favelas and the UPPs were disappearing. Police also feel frustrated in favelas because they found themselves helpless and had to choose between daily shootouts and a coexistence between gangs and police.  Due to Brazil’s economic crisis, police haven’t been paid in months so that also kidnap suspects, take bribes and negotiate to save lives of criminals. The violence and crossfire in favelas isn’t fundamentally resolved up until today.

Favelas in Brazil is still an urgent issue for Brazilian government to settle. Without proper measures to reduce the number and stop the violence inside, it will only get worse and hurt the benefits of citizens living in the inside circle.


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