Developing country case study: Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro is one of Brazil's largest settlements with a population of approximately 6.7 million people. Natural increase is one cause of increased population, but migration is the major factor. 65 per cent of urban growth is a result of migration. Millions of people have migrated from Brazil's rural areas to the city.

The rapid growth of Rio de Janeiro's population has led to severe crowding and a shortage of housing. The city cannot grow because of physical factors – there are mountains to the north and west, and sea to the south and east. Housing areas of Rio are highly segregated.

High class residential areas are found next to the CBD and along beaches of areas such as Copacabana. Apartments are very exclusive and cater for the wealthy workers of the CBD. Many of these high rise apartments have 24 hour security and armed guards. Residents are fearful of the risk of violence, theft, mugging, abductions and vandalism due to the high levels of unemployment and poverty in the city.

Middle level residential areas have developed near the airport and highways.

Poor people live inland, far from the CBD and transport networks.

Squatter camps

Hundreds of immigrants arrive in Rio each day. Many come looking for work and a better life than that available in rural Brazil. They often squat on unused, often unsafe land called squatter camps.

Here new arrivals to the city build their own houses out of basic materials such as tarpaulin, scrap wood and corrugated iron. Squatter camps are located on areas of land which the population neither own nor rent. These settlements are illegal and are therefore not catered for by the government. Therefore there is no electricity, no rubbish collection, no schools and no hospitals.

The houses in these settlements have no basic amenities such as running water or toilets so there are high incidences of diseases such as cholera and dysentery.

As squatter camps become established they may grow into larger favelas.

Favelas

Slum housing on a hillside in the Rocinha favela in Rio
Rocinha favela in Rio

Favelas are found on the edges of Rio, close to industry where people look for work. Many are in the steep hills around the city as it is the only available land to build on within the city limits.

Rocinha is the largest favela in Brazil. It is located in the southern zone of the city. It is built on a steep hillside overlooking the city, just one km from the beach. It is home to between 60,000 to 150,000 people.

Favelas like Rocinha usually offer better standards of living than squatter camps as they have been improved over time. Standpipes provide running water. Unpaved roads are usually present and there may be some shared toilets available. Some residents may have used skills to earn money. Some use their homes as shops, or to provide services such as hairdressers. Although these favelas have been improved, they still have many of the same problems as the squatter camps such as overcrowding, disease and extreme poverty.

In Rio, more than 1.2 million people live in the favelas on less than £1 per day. The residents lack access to the most basic public services, such as health care, education, and space for recreation. Infant mortality rates are high in favelas, 50 per 1000 compared to a national rate of 15 per 1000.

There are high incidences of malnutrition, diarrhoea and other diseases. Organised crime and gang violence are also common. Unemployment rates are high and many people work in the informal, poorly paid sector.