For those of us fortunate to have experienced London 2012 this summer, it is hard to believe that it’s been over a month since a reluctant Boris Johnson handed over the Olympic flag to the Eduardo Paes the Mayor of Rio de Janeiro. Rio is one of the most spectacular Cities in the world, flanked by mountains, white-sand beaches, green rainforests and azure seas. There is no question that it has all the raw ingredients to host the football world cup in 2014 and Olympics two years later – but at what cost? Beneath the watchful gaze of Cristo Redentor high upon Corcovado mountain surrounded by the seductive sounds of Samba the battle over the next games has just begun as Rio is poised to increase inequality in a city already famous for it.
Rio’s shantytowns, or favelas as they are more commonly known are home to millions. It is home to almost ten times as many inhabitants as Dharavi and Soweto combined, and according to some estimates almost 25% of the city’s population live in over 1000 favelas, several of which have been awarded UNESCO world heritage site status. Morro da Providência is Rio’s first and oldest favela, inhabited for over 100 years it is the birthplace of the samba schools that carnival is so famous for and yet Olympic construction projects are threatening its future. Although the city claims that investments will benefit residents, 30%of the community’s population has already been marked for removal and the only public consultations held were to warn residents of their fate. Homes are spray-painted during the day with the initials for the municipal housing secretary and an identifying number. Residents return from work to learn that their homes will be demolished, with no warning of what’s to come, or when.
Violent evictions have become common place and those who choose to stay are left to live amongst rubble in often unbearable conditions. At the end of last year, more than 3,000 troops launched a pre-dawn assault on Rocinha, one of Rio’s largest favelas as part of the continuing effort to ‘pacify’ the city before the tournaments arrive. Local studies estimate that between 150,000 and 170,000 people have had their housing rights violated in so called “forced removal, on mass. Five communities have already been fully removed, and 24 are threatened with eviction. As the world turns its gaze to Rio, pressure from the media and NGOs has helped, however investor pressure has led to new and innovative ways to continue a blatant disregard for human rights.
Authorities have declared the relocations to be in the interest of residents, claiming they live in risky areas prone to landslides and because de-densification is required to improve quality of life. Studies commissioned by local engineers have shown little evidence of landslide risk or dangerous overcrowding as 98% of Providência’s homes are made of sturdy brick and concrete and 90 percent have more than three rooms. Locals point to the fact that reports quoted by the City were inadequately studied and in places wholly inaccurate. Worryingly even where firms such as AECOM, the British civil infrastructure firm responsible for building Rio’s Olympic village, managed to produce plans which avoided mass evictions, the City simply added a series of bends to the new train tracks, which by cutting through several favelas, will require the residents to vacate their properties.
The social, economic and psychological impacts of evictions are dire: forcing families to move into isolated units where they lose access to the enormous economic and social benefits of community cooperation, far from work and existing social networks, often to places with little or no infrastructure — not to mention generations’ worth of investments made in their homes. The build up to the World Cup in South Africa and the Beijing Olympics, were marred with human rights abuses; the destruction of housing, police raids, arbitrary arrests and ill-treatment of locals. Rio has an opportunity to do things the London way and host a successful Olympic games without the human rights abuses. The world is watching and waiting in hope.