Brazil, being among the top 10 most populous countries in the world, has one of the highest levels of wealth inequality. Wealth distribution is lacking, as the south is responsible for the vast majority of Brazil’s bustling economy and holds a large fraction of the nation’s money. The stark contrast between the affluent and the poor is as visible as the divide between the metropolis and the countryside. The outskirts of Brazil’s major cities, namely Rio de Janeiro, indicate a clear division as unregulated neighborhoods, or slums termed “favelas,” are ever-present. Here are 10 facts about slums in Brazil.
10 Facts about Slums in Brazil
- Construction of homes: The original slums were constructed from debris and stolen materials such as wooden scraps. The homes generally start as makeshift creations. After a time, improvements are made and the homes are solidified with brick, cinderblocks and sheet metal; however, the homes are far from being “adequate living conditions,” according to the World Bank.
- Growth: Favelas started growing between the 1950s and 1980s. As the cost of scarce land increased drastically and people migrated from the countryside to the city, rural migrants were trapped in poverty. During this time period, the population in favelas outside Rio de Janeiro alone increased from around 170,000 to over 600,000.
- Lack of housing: Brazil has anywhere between six to eight million fewer houses than it needs to house the residents of the favelas. The lack of housing leads to the proliferation of slum housing and the overcrowding of these neighborhoods. Habitat for Humanity is working alongside city councils to rehabilitate the slums and find solutions to the housing crisis.
- Population: According to the 2010 census, nearly 6 percent of Brazil’s population lives in a favela. This is likely due to the low wages and extremely high cost of living in Rio de Janeiro and other parts of Brazil.
- Poverty: Favelas are areas of concentrated poverty. More than 50 million Brazilians are living in inadequate conditions. Of these 50 million, most are families that have an income of around $300 per month.
- Sanitation: Twenty-six million Brazilians in urban areas do not have access to drinking water, 14 million are without trash collection services and 83 million live without sewage systems. In order to reach clean water, people living in favelas have to walk over two hours each day. Habitat for Humanity is making strides to alleviate the severity of this issue by repairing and enlarging roofs in favelas while also “building cisterns for water catchment and storage,” according to their website.
- Life expectancy: The life expectancy in Brazil is approximately 68 years while the life expectancy of individuals living in favelas is merely 48 years. Conditions are improving as medical care is available at no cost. However, essential medicines are lacking and care for illnesses such as bronchitis is rare as resources are slim.
- Crime: The favelas are overrun by drug-trafficking gangs, and the police presence is scarce. However, in the favela outside Rio de Janeiro, a local militia formed in response to these gangs. The Police Pacification Units were introduced in 2008 and are slowly reducing the crime rates in the favelas.
- Employment: Around 80 percent of people living in Rocinha, the largest favela in Rio de Janeiro, are employed and a grand majority of the inhabitants have no affiliation with the previously mentioned gangs and violence associated with favelas.
- Improving the favelas: While poverty and disease within the favelas is still high, there are social and religious organizations focused on gaining access to basic rights and services for residents of favelas. For example, The Future Begins at Home is a project based in Recife that allows 250 families access to healthier spaces for work, play, and family life.
The favelas of Brazil signify the divide between the poor and the wealthy. Rio de Janeiro has implemented programs to eradicate the favelas and replace the weak, dangerous infrastructure of the slums with more permanent housing. While the conditions of the slums in Brazil may seem hopeless, change is occurring and progress is being made.
– Clare Leo