Rio’s favelas not benefitting from cash-rich Olympics

Rio de Janeiro, Aug 18 (IANS) Millions of dollars pumped into the Rio Olympics have provided hundreds of international athletes with standard sanitary accommodation in the Games Village on the west side of Rio but the funds have seemingly missed upgrading life at Rio’s slums, known locally as favelas.

Rocinha Favela is a slum in Rio’s South Zone where most homes are built on a hill and shoddy infrastructure means rivers of sewage and garbage are part of daily life, reports Efe.

In this neighbourhood, sewage runs down from no less than 23 waterfalls and channels, right beside people’s concrete homes, Jose Martins de Oliveira, spokesman for the Rocinha Sem Fronteiras (Rocinha Without Borders) community group, said on Wednesday.

For visiting Olympians, Rocinha at night perhaps offers a beautiful view of lights spread along a steep hill, just below a mountain.

But looking east from Rocinha, towards the Olympic venue of the Copacabana stadium, some residents see only government investment that has once again passed them by.

“The Olympics for me is sanitation that never arrived. The Olympics for me is the Bay (Guanabara Bay where the sailing is held) that had resources to be cleaned but that never got cleaned. The Olympics for me is the security failure where the city has not been able to keep people safe,” said de Oliveira.

According to the official government census, Rocinha — the city’s largest favela — is home to about 70,000 people, but unofficial estimates suggest the population is much higher at 150,000-200,000 residents.

Outsiders might be shocked by the stench of trash and raw waste in the air, but many local people have little choice but to accept it and hope that things will improve.

At the same time, not all locals have been willing to wait, and the community has struggled with the Rio government for decades in an effort to secure proper sanitation services, even taking the city to court.

Community pressure on the authorities has produced some results, and in 2007 the government under former President Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva brought in the Growth Acceleration Programme (PAC), which by 2014 had invested more than $1.22 trillion in infrastructure and urban development projects nationwide, according to Rioonwatch website.

Rio’s three major favelas were targeted in the first phase of PAC (PAC 1), which brought to Rocinha such improvements as a new sports complex, a health clinic, a library and road upgrades.

PAC 2 aimed to invest R$457 million ($142.5 million) in improving sanitation systems, storm drains and regular garbage collection services, all of which could clear up public health concerns in Rocinha.

But those projects haven’t made progress since February 2015, when ex-Finance Minister Joaquim Levy froze the budget on PAC investments amid economic woes.

Brazil’s current political turmoil following the impeachment of suspended President Dilma Rousseff has put a question marks over the resumption of PAC funding.

The stalled upgrades aren’t stopping the members of Rocinha Sem Fronteiras, who for the last 10 years have been holding weekly meetings on improving community services, and whose meetings on public sanitation attract the most people.

–IANS

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