From the United Arab Emirates The National writer Sharmila Devi talks about the conflict the rainy season created.
A single colour determines the fate of thousands of residents in Rio de Janeiro’s shantytowns, or favelas, after floods killed about 230 people this month.
With a stroke of paint on the side of a shack or house, city officials assessing the damage from record rainfall are deciding who can stay and who must abandon their home. Blue paint means the house is still structurally sound; orange means there is cause for concern; black orders the residents to leave the house.
Although the floods had some effect on all of the city’s six million residents, the worst afflicted are among the one million or so people who dwell in the hillside favelas. They face the biggest hurdles to returning to what passed for normality in the poverty-stricken, drug gang-controlled slums.
The Brazilian government has rushed to try to take control after the floods, aware it is under increasing scrutiny as it prepares to host the football World Cup across the country in 2014 and the Olympics Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. Officials issued reassuring statements, saying neither sporting event was likely to face such a disaster because neither would be held during Brazil’s rainy season.
But the floods have highlighted the country’s daunting challenges to upgrade its infrastructure, reduce widespread crime and overhaul a police force widely acknowledged as one of the most corrupt in the world.
Flooding caused mudslides and exposed tree roots and fresh red earth in Rocinha’s steep, hillside streets and alleys. At other, even poorer favelas, long neglected by authorities, shacks and houses were swept away. Dozens of homes built on top of a rubbish dump crumbled down a hillside in Niteroi, a town just across the bay from Rio de Janeiro.
Wastewater has flowed down from the favelas to southern Rio, where the city’s elite live and play on the world-famous beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema. Brazil’s economic inequality rate ranks among the highest in the world, with an estimated one per cent of the population owning 50 per cent of the wealth.
Eduardo Paes, Rio’s mayor, ordered nearly 50,000 people to evacuate the favelas. The city plans to spend more than one billion reals (Dh2bn) on relocation, reconstruction and reforestation.