Opinion, by Alfonso Stefanini
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Rio de Janeiro is a city blessed by nature. The Mata Atlântica Forest and its monolithic rock formations shape the city in such a way that it is very easy to imagine what the region looked like before the human created landscape began defying the natural granite domes that still faithfully hold their ground across the city.
Rio’s geography gives way to multiple trails and waterfalls within city limits, where water is clean enough to drink while looking down at the buzzing city and beaches. The fauna and flora found in the hiking trails in Rio de Janeiro still boggle the mind considering Rio’s exploitative agriculture and lumber history.
The heavy rains and mudslides of 2010 have change dramatically the topography of many hiking trails throughout the city and government organizations, like Geo-Rio, has been investing heavily in restoration projects to get trails on the map once again.
Over the years, violence and lack of infrastructure has prevented the outdoorsy types such as rock climbers, bicyclist, hikers and others from exploring the surplus of trails found in areas like the Tijuca National Forest, largest tropical urban forest in world, and in other parks that dot the outskirts of the city.
There are numerous reported cases of people getting robbed going up places like Pedra da Gávea, Corcovado and Vista Chinesa, all located in some of the most noble areas of Rio de Janeiro. In more severe accounts there have been kidnapping and killings from robberies that had gone from bad to unimaginably wrong.
Recently, the UPPs (Pacifying Police Units) being implemented in the favelas are bringing back a sense of security and encouraging people to explore the green areas of the city. The UPP program was born four years ago but really started to take form with defining success in 2011. The UPP efforts should include additional patrolling of the hiking trails.
At the same rate security is growing in the South and West Zones of Rio, violence is growing on Baixada Fluminense, in the North Zone, as seen with the murderer of six teenagers who where at a waterfall in the Natural Park of Gericinó near the Chatuba Favela, who where killed and tortured by pitiless criminals confusing them for rival gang members.
This cruel massacre brought to light Rio’s government need to increase UPP forces and bring additional monitoring to areas outside of the epicenter of city due to the fact that criminals have been pushed to the outer margins of the city.
Violence in Rio has gone down and it is the hope that the government pushes the UPP forces, in addition to more investment in education and social programs for poor communities, to areas of need.
Hopefully public policies will encompass the entire city and make the habit of hiking and tracking in the city safe for all citizens.
Alfonso Stefanini has an MA in International Environmental Policy from the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California and a BA from Hampshire College. Alfonso lives in Rio de Janeiro, and he can be reached at: Ecobrasilis@gmail.com.