Thursday, April 09, 2009

Brazil builds walls around slums: protecting the rainforest or protecting the rich?

"Brazil: Plan to build giant wall around ghetto to protect rainforest?" Forest Policy Research

"Rio to Build 10-Foot Walls Around City Slums" FoxNews

"Brazil builds walls around Rio de Janeiro slums" Reuters

"Rio to build walls around slums in attempt to halt deforestation in Brazil" Guardian

Brazil is planning to construct concrete walls around at least 11 of Rio de Janeiro's largest slums, called "favelas", by the end of this year. The walls will be 7 miles long and 10 feet tall. The Rio state government announced the plan as a way to cut back on deforestation of the areas surrounding the favelas by setting limits on how far the favelas can expand. The project is expected to cost around USD17 million.

Deforestation is a constant concern for Brazil. The Atlantic rainforest in the area around Rio de Janeiro, has been hard hit by deforestation in recent years. About 506 acres were destroyed in the last three years. That is double the rate of the three years before that. Officials largely blame deforestation on the expansion of slums as newcomers arrived from Brazil's interior. The government also explains that the walls will protect favela residents from floods and mudslides, which wash away many shacks built in ravines or on hillsides every year during the rainy season.

Critics of the wall fear the move could be seen as discriminatory and become a blemish symbolizing Brazil's deep divisions between rich and poor. There is some truth to this criticism: the Rio government has already come under fire from social activists and even environmentalists that argue the walls are actually meant to further segregate the poor from the richer, more tourist-friendly parts of the city. Many of the slums are built on mountainsides and look down on wealthy, beach-front areas. Some critics dub the project a form of "social apartheid", comparing it to ­Israel’s security barrier. One critic from a Rio human rights group explained, "This is something that is very similar to what Israel does to the Palestinians and to what happened in South Africa." The government heartily rejects these criticisms and assures people the walls are only built to protect the rainforest and the slum dwellers themselves.

Work on the walls has already begun in two favelas in the southern districts of Rio de Janeiro. The most famous is Morro Dona Marta, which police occupied in November to control violence caused mostly by rival drug gangs. The Dona Marta slum, home of about 7500 people, sits in the shadow of Rio's famous Christ statute. In Dona Marta, 62-year-old Maria da GraƧca Martins da Silva, who has spent most of her life in the slum, said: "We don't feel imprisoned. But I wonder about one thing–is this wall going to curtail our freedom? I hope not."

600 houses will be destroyed to make room for the walls in the 11 favelas, but the Rio government has promised to build new homes inside the favelas for those displaced residents. On the whole, residents of homes to be destroyed are hopeful that their new promised home will be better than their old, but some have expressed skepticism that the government will follow through with promises to provide new homes.

1) What is your opinion of the "eco-wall" project?
2) Are there other ways that the Rio government could prevent deforestation through encroachment by slums?

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