Rio de Janeiro Mayor Cesar Maia at the Washington seminar in October 2003

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Rio de Janeiro to spend US$1 billion on
innovative slum improvement programme

By Paulo Bótas

5 December 2003: Rio de Janeiro aims to invest a total of US$1 billion in its internationally acclaimed ‘Favela-Bairro’ neighbourhood improvement programme, Rio city leaders told City Mayors at a seminar held at the Inter-American Development Bank’s Washington headquarters in October 2003. Favela-Bairro is the name given to a programme that brings basic infrastructure as well as municipal and social services to favelas, Rio's urban squatter settlements.

Favela-Bairro, which has inspired at least ten urban improvement programmes in other Latin American cities, departed from the traditional policies of eradicating slums. Rather than razing poor people’s homes, Rio’s municipal government decided to improve living conditions in their neighbourhoods by providing them with basic infrastructure and social services.

Rio de Janeiro Mayor Mr Cesar Maia and Housing Secretary Ms Solange Amaral told the seminar participants that they expected Favela-Bairro to go into a third phase. The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) has supported the first two phases of this programme designed to integrate poor neighbourhoods with the rest of the city.

“Favela-Bairro is without any doubt the most important project for Rio. It’s a programme that ‘cariocas’ (people born in Rio de Janeiro) recognise as their own. And I’m not the one who says so. It’s the city itself,” Cesar Maia said. The project’s name symbolises the idea of turning slums into formal neighbourhoods by providing them with basic infrastructure and public and social services.

The programme had a total budget of US$600 million for its first two phases, to which the IDB has contributed $360 million in loans. According to Ms Amaral, the municipal government expects to invest $400 million more in Favela-Bairro to cover more than 330 neighbourhoods.

“In the first two phases we have reached 168 communities, counting favelas and informal urban developments,” she said, adding that Favela-Bairro had served as a basis for other programmes aimed at the city’s smallest and largest marginal settlements.

Some 1.7 million people live in Rio’s slums. Ms Amaral said the programme supported by the IDB had already benefited nearly 500,000 people.

The programme, which focuses on medium-size settlements with 500 to 2,500 homes, relies on a participative method that involves beneficiaries in all stages of the projects. It builds roads, drainage systems, sports facilities and leisure areas; stabilises hillsides, and brings services such as water and sanitation, garbage collection, street cleaning and public lighting to the city’s poor neighbourhoods.

It also offers communities a menu of social services such as day care centres, school retention and reinforcement programmes for children and teenagers, programmes for at-risk adolescents, activities to foster women and youth leadership, and counselling on domestic violence, substance addictions and sexual abuse. An income-generation component provides adult education and job training.

“Evaluations of Favela-Bairro suggest that communities that have taken part in the programme have improved significantly in terms of coverage of drinking water, sewerage and garbage collection services,” Ms Amaral said.

The Rio de Janeiro Mayor also underscored the programme’s continuity, noting that it had been carried out by three successive administrations. According to recent opinion polls, Rio residents picked Favela-Bairro as the top priority programme for the city’s government.

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