Improving the favelas

In Brazil, as in many developing countries, local communities, charities and government departments are working together to improve conditions in favelas. Improving conditions can lead to improvements in the residents' quality of life.

The government ultimately want to improve existing shanty towns but do not want to encourage more to develop, however, the favelas are eyesores and portray a poor image of the city.

Approaches to improvement

Site and service schemes

The Favela Bairro Project (Favela Neighbourhood Project) began in Rio de Janeiro in 1994 and ran until 2008. It aimed to recognise the favelas as neighbourhoods of the city in their own right and provide the inhabitants with essential services.

This project was undertaken by the local authority, who relocated some residents from the most unsafe houses sited on steep hillsides. Brick houses were built with electricity, running water and sanitation pipes installed. Some people were allowed to buy these homes, and were given legal rights to the land.

In Complexo de Alemao (German complex) favela, improvements included providing 26,000 residents with access to a clean water supply and drainage systems. It also involved the installation of street lighting and the construction of widened streets and pavements, which made the favela more accessible, especially for refuse collection and emergency services. Street lighting improved safety for residents, especially at night. The council installed underground cables, providing residents with a permanent electricity supply so they no longer need to tap into supplies illegally.

In Rio, schemes like these have had some success as living conditions have improved for some people. However, they are restricted by the steep surrounding mountains. Occasional heavy rains can also lead to flooding, impeding development. There is also not enough funding to make improvements for everyone living in favelas.

Self-help schemes

The authorities in Rio de Janeiro have set up self-help schemes in the favelas. People are given tools and training to improve their homes. Low-interest loans may be used to help people fund these changes. People may be given legal ownership of the land they live on.

The local authority sometimes provides residents with materials to construct permanent accommodation. The scheme fosters a sense of community identity and gives locals a chance to learn a trade. This helps to improve their skills, employability and reduce unemployment. As residents provide the labour, the money saved on the cost of employing building contractors, can be spent on providing basic amenities such as electricity and water.

Other facilities like schools, health clinics and recreational areas are also provided.

In some schemes, residents buy the houses or pay rent. This means those who are unemployed or on very low pay do not benefit.

Today, almost all the houses in Rocinha are made from concrete and brick. Most have basic sanitation, plumbing, and electricity. Compared to other favelas, Rocinha has a better-developed infrastructure, including bus links, and hundreds of businesses such as banks, pharmacies, cable television, and even its own locally based channel, TV ROC.

These schemes have cost the government in excess of £200 million.

Government investment

The government helped people to become homeowners. The Brazilian Federal Savings Bank offered 100% mortgages to families to allow them to buy a house. This supports the improvement of the favelas as people become responsible for upgrading and maintenance, rather than government responsibility. However, favelas are often built in locations with poor access and connectivity to public transport.

This usually results in them being far from major sources of employment, which can strain the ability of the household to make regular repayments on the mortgage.