Rio de Janeiro Walls in Favelas to Protect Forest

Uploaded by TheVJMovement on 17.05.2011

Seven percent [approximately 52,000 square kilometers] is all that remains
of the once majestic Atlantic
rainforests in southeastern Brazil.
It's an ecosystem richer than the Amazon,
extending along Brazil's Atlantic coast.
Although the damage was not done overnight,
conservationists attribute much of the deforestation
to decades of uncontrolled urban
development, when successive governments
ignored the housing needs of the poor,
who invaded public lands
to build their homes in
communities known as "favelas."
Today, around one million Rio residents
live in these makeshift neighborhoods.
Rio is divided by mountains,
there are the mountains and the sea.
The middle class settled near the sea --
it may be a Portuguese thing --
and the poor went to the mountains,
which were public land.
So that's how the city is divided;
sometimes there is a very short distance --
maybe 100 meters or 50 meters --
between a very rich community
and a very poor community.
Facing pressures from environmentalists and residents
to protect the remaining forests, the newly elected
governor, Sergio Cabral, has approved a program
to build walls between favelas and forests.
The 40 million reas [approximately U.S.$22.4 million] project is being
paid for by a government fund
to protect the Atlantic rainforest.
There are many [illegal urban] invasions
and attempts to block invasions
in the Atlantic rainforest.
And every day the Atlantic rainforest is diminishing.
So the governor's plan is to
put up a wall to show the population --
to also show environmentalists
and the rest of the society --
that we don't want [the favelas] to advance
and we want to protect the forests.
We've tried everything and nothing's worked.
[We decided on] a physical barrier,
because if you look over there
where there's a physical barrier,
there's no way [the favela] can advance.
It stopped up there.
So the governor's idea is to build
a physical barrier, an artificial barrier
so people will have no choice
but to recognize the limit.
Most environmentalists, like Roberto Mesquita,
president of Rio's Association for Forest Engineers
and member of the city's environmental
council, are not convinced.
If [their] argument is protecting the forests,
the numbers, figures and information show
that this is not the best way,
and these aren't the most critical areas to protect.
If they [the government] want to protect
the forests effectively, then
limits need to go up in other areas.
There are favelas and [middle class]
areas with condominiums,
like Jacarpagua, Bangu, Campo Grande and Realengo.
These neighborhoods and communities
are also expanding and some have even
doubled in size in the last 10 years.
And there is no evidence of plans for projects
to build any kind of [ecological] limits in these areas.
These areas also have Atlantic rainforests
with ecosystems that are just as important
as in the rich [South zone] neighborhoods.
According to some environmentalists,
the 11 South-zone favelas selected for [ecological] walls
are no longer expanding or threatening forests.
The favela of Dona Marta, for example,
the site of the first wall,
has been shrinking during the last 15 years,
and residents of other favelas on the list, like Rocinha --
once considered the largest favela in South America --
have voluntarily controlled expansion
with strict building policies.
The individual community also has the
responsibility to control growth.
[Here, in Rocinha] it was disorganized during many years,
it happened,
but I think that now it has reached its limit.
There is no way we can permit anyone to
build a new house in Rocinha.
No more building houses.
Not even one,
in any direction.
Rocinha residents accepted the walls
after the governor agreed to pave roads
and build an ecological park, to be completed by 2010.
We explained to the Rocinha residents
and they understood.
We designed the park
using their suggestions.
We organized a workshop
called "Imagination," and we used 90 percent
of their suggestions and ideas.
But favela residents say
they care about the environment,
and they've proven that already
through their actions.
The community cares about the environment.
It's so important that, as I mentioned earlier,
the invasions could have gone
until the end [of the forest].
Because there is a huge demand for housing.
There shouldn't be any trees left.
Although there is always somebody
protecting the [forest],
like the [resident's] association.
If they hear the sound of tree cutting,
they come running.
They don't let anyone cut down trees
and they preserve the forest.
If not, there wouldn't be any trees.
Past administrations have also attempted to limit urban
expansion and protect forests with physical barriers,
with mixed results.
Government figures show that
in the favelas where there was an agreement,
where there was an accord
at the time when eco-limits were established.
The eco-limits worked,
even if they were fragile.
But in the favelas where there
was no agreement [with the community], the eco-limits failed,
and the community ignored the limits and expanded.
In other words,
the physical limits didn't determine whether
or not the favelas would expand.
Roberto thinks better solutions are
community tree-planting programs, where
the eco-limits are the trees themselves.
The walls are clearly symbolic, but might
not be the sought-after†solution†to the environmental
devastation created by urban expansion.