Image: Rio de Janeiro's favela

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Rio de Janeiro's favela

Now that Rio de Janeiro has won its bid to host the 2016 summer Olympics, it will be interesting to see what happens to the 1.3 million impoverished people who live in the over 750 favelas on the hills surrounding the city.

Favelas are essentially slums or shanty towns (“favela” translates into “slum” in Brasilian Portuguese) set up in the suburbs of a city by by the poor who have no other means of shelter. They have existed since the late 1800s after former African slaves were ‘freed’ but had no rights to land ownership, means of education, or means of employment. Poor and with no rights or place to go, they started setting up shacks in rural areas and over the years moved closer and closer to the cities in an effort to find work. Now, Rio de Janeiro has the second greatest number of favelas in Brasil after Sao Paulo — 612 for Sao Paulo and 513 for Rio based on the 2000 Brasilian census, although the number for Rio is now over 750. Nineteen percent of Rio’s population lives in favelas and the population growth in favelas is higher than the population growth of Brasil as a whole.

Various governments throughout Brazil’s history have attempted to remove the favelas, beginning in the 1940s when many of them were destroyed in favour of public housing. When the public housing was not delivered, the favelas essentially went right back up on the grounds from which they were originally cleared. Again in the 1950s the government attempted to ‘clean up’ the favelas by building two large apartment complexes, which did not solve the problem of the need for favelas. In the 1970s, while under military dictatorship, the government once again tried to destroy the favelas and move their inhabitants to public housing. However, the poor could not afford even public housing, and so the favelas persisted.


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