Last updated: 18 november, 2009 - 11:39 GMT

Climate connections: Manaus

Houses in Manaus

The city of Manaus is located in the heart of the Amazon rainforest

The BBC is visiting eight areas of the world to find how people are preparing for climate change. BBC Brazil correspondent Paulo Cabral reports from Manaus.


Favella in Manaus

The favellas of Manaus are expanding into the forest

What do you think a city in the heart of the Amazon jungle would be like?

Verdant alleys, big trees full of colourful birds? Indians hanging out in traditional dress?

Well, think again - at least if we are talking about Manaus, the two-million-people capital of the Amazonas state.

Around the city, nature is pretty much pristine. But in the urban areas are certainly fewer trees that would be seen in the heart of Sao Paulo - or even London.

A rather cosmopolitan middle class hanging out in shopping centers and traffic jams that are only getting worse with the economic growth in the region.

And instead of the laid-back jungle villages found further into the rainforest, the suburbs of Manaus are home to many favelas, with houses built on stilts over streams of open-air sewage. Here, rats are the easiest animals to spot.

However, Brazil's good economic climate has brought a rather upbeat attitude to the people living in these slums. Walking around we could see a few people washing their new cars, one person painting his house while listening to loud boleros on his brand new widescreen television.

Manicures and dreams

And then we met Michelle Botelho's family. Michelle came to Manaus three years ago with her husband to try and make a better living.

They had to leave their two kids in their home town of Sao Luis do Maranhao, on the beautiful but very poor north-eastern coast of Brazil, until they could find work here.

Michelle and her baby

Michelle is doing well with her beauty business

"It was difficult at first, but we have managed to work hard and now life got much better," she says.

"When we came to Manaus we had to sleep on the floor. Now we have a bed, a TV, DVD player, two fans and and air conditioning."

They managed to bring their children to Manaus, but with a young baby she had to work from home - so she set up a small manicure and pedicure business.

"When women have some money left, the first thing they want to invest on is beauty," Michelle says. "So I think this business can be very lucrative."

But ultimately, her dream is to be journalist. "Maybe God sent you here," she says to me, offering coffee and home-made cheese puffs.

"When I was a kid a liked to write, but my mother didn't encourage me, because she said I wouldn't make money out of it. Maybe it's about time I did something."

That made us leave that slum with a feel good sensation that reporting on poverty rarely brings. Thank you, Michelle.


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Burned land in the Amazon rainforest

Burned areas of land abound even in the protected Amazonas state

Something as big as the Amazon has to looked at from above.

It's certainly great to walk amongst the enormous trees, listen to innumerable birds and insects, and even fear that a jaguar could be hiding somewhere.

But it's only flying that you manage to have a grasp of its scale - and also of the scale of destruction that can hit this region.

On our way to the Juma rain forest reserve - a pilot project where villagers are being paid not to cut down trees - we were flying at an altitude of over 1,000 feet in a small plane, and still we could feel the smell of smoke from the forest burning below us.

Flying over the jungle for one hour, we could spot several columns of smoke rising up from the trees. And that's the Amazonas state, where 98% of the forest still stands and destruction is in fact much slower than in other regions of the Amazon.

Our pilot told us that actually this thick cloud of smoke comes from wood fires in the state of Para, more than 1,000 km away.


After an hour's flight we still had another couple of hours on boat to get to the Juma reserve, where the villagers are taking part in a pilot project - they receive subsidies in return for protecting the forest.

After generations of isolation, the locals are getting more and more exposed to the external world through visitors. Journalists from all over the world come to this region to check on this experience.

Paulo collects copaiba oil

Copaiba oil's healing qualities are very necessary in an area with few doctors

People there don't like talking much, but even in silence they manage to be warm and welcoming. And we were lucky to meet the Paulo dos Santos, his wife Josivalda and their six children, who let us follow them through their day and showed around their corner of rainforest.

They were certainly very curious about our equipment and all the information we brought from the outside world, but what was really amazing was the privilege of learning what they know about the jungle.

A quick walkabout with one of the kids from the village is enough to learn the names of dozens of birds and trees.

Paulo took us to the jungle to look for the copaiba oil he extracts from the copaiba tree.

"This is oil is really good to treat many ailments, and even cancer," he told me.

At times Paulo spends weeks walking in the jungle collecting this oil. He needs no maps to guide him through the woods, and there's not even a path to make things easier: it's just him and his machete, opening space through the trees.

Following him I was exhausted after the first hour from the heat and the oppressive humidity of the jungle.

Still, it's worth it - even if you don't get to see as many animals as you would expect. Wise animals don't keep showing themselves off.

Paulo seemed unaware of how important all the traditional knowledge his tribe have accumulated can be.

Possibly the reason is that it is so obvious and natural for them that they don’t even understand our fascination about it

"What I dream for my kids is to send them to town so they can learn something useful and have a better life," said Paulo.

From my point of view, if his kids do go to town, they will have at least as much to teach.



Marcos says people are aware of climate change - but have too many other problems to worry about

Sao Paulo is clearly a Brazilian city - but it's as cosmopolitan as they come.

Take the Ekoa cafe, for example. It is set in the heart of the Vila Madalena bohemian district, but it could easily be transplanted to London or Buenos Aires, where it would fit in perfectly.

Not surprisingly, it's this place that hosts the Green Drinks event, which happens in other 29 cities around the world once a month. It's an informal gathering to discuss environmental issues - particularly climate change – over beers, caipirinhas and organic food.

The owner Marisa Bussacos says the the whole idea of the coffee shop has to do with sustainability. And in a city like Sao Paulo, with a large middle class often identified with the environmental concerns - and with some money to spend on organic food - the cafe is quickly becoming a hit.

"It's true that sustainability is a great marketing pitch for any company nowadays, but we do have a sincere concern about it", she says.

But Sao Paulo is not only made up of left-wing middle class students. So we went on to one of the poorest parts of town - Cidade Tiradentes - to check how sustainability and climate change are perceived there

Producer Jo Mathys and I picked that neighbourhood - among the many poor suburbs of Sao Paulo - because a Funk Music Festival was programmed so we were bound to find many people in a good mood and, hopefully, willing to talk to us.

Sao Paulo funk festival

People at the Funk Festival in Sao Paulo were keen to share their views

"I am glad you are coming here to talk to us - usually journalists only go to ask these questions in the posh areas of Sao Paulo", said Marcos, who spontaneously came up to chat.

But he did not believe people in his neighbourhood would be too concerned about climate change. "We have so many problems here, with education, infrastructure, transport and so on, that people don't have time to think of the environment," he said.

However, when we went on to talk to people we realized pretty much everyone knew what we were talking about, had a view to chip in and said something had to be done about it.

True, the level of information was lower than the one we found in the richer parts of Sao Paulo. But still, everyone there seemed aware that environmental issues affect everyone, regardless of social class.


The developed world caused climate change, says Brazil, so it can solve it. And it has refused to accept emissions targets until the middle of the century.

But Brazil has a key asset in fighting global warming - the Amazon rainforest.

Up to 75% of Brazil’s greenhouse gases come from the deforestation of the Amazon, and the massive cattle farms which replace the trees.

Huge ships dock at the Port of Manaus – a city of two million in the middle of the forest - to load timber and beef. Along the River Negro, the containers are piled as high as apartment blocks.

So far, Brazil has resisted any "foreign interference" in the Amazon. But the mayor of Manaus has started a scheme to pay locals not to chop down the rainforest.

What more can be done to save the Amazon? Is there a way to create a thriving economy there without cutting down the trees?

The Climate Connection

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