By Leo Byrne, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Demolition work began earlier this week on two newly constructed apartment blocks originally planned to house displaced favela residents in Niterói. Despite being scheduled for completion in July this year, apartment blocks three and five in the Zilda Arns project in Fonseca were deemed unsafe due to numerous large cracks that were exposed.
Since then, construction work on the site has ceased as the buildings were evaluated for risk of collapse. Imperial Serviços Limitada, the company responsible for the building work, attributed the appearance of the cracks to recent heavy rains destabilizing the soil.
“It’s difficult to say without the data if it was the heavy rain or some other problem,” civil engineer Jefferson Machado told The Rio Times. “Problems with soil destabilization should be treated with caution, but in this season heavy rainfall in the state of Rio de Janeiro is common, so the project should have been run with this in mind,” Machado continued.
The construction was part of the ‘Minha Casa, Minha Vida’ (My House, My Life), program to provide housing for residents of the Morro do Bumba favela that was destroyed two years ago in a tragic mudslide. The disaster claimed the lives of 47 residents and left more than three thousand homeless.
The Caixa Economica Federal bankrolled the government sponsored R$27 million project, with each block costing R$2 million. It’s currently unclear who will pay for the reconstruction.
“To ensure the safety of workers and residents of surrounding communities, Caixa ordered the suspension of work on the entire project and took steps to prevent to the site. [We] hired technical experts to complete an additional study in order to identify the determining factors with results [expected] within fifteen days,” Caixa said in a press release.
In the meantime the displaced residents will continue to live in the reportedly unsanitary conditions at the Third Infantry Battalion (3rd BI) in São Gonçalo. Despite Mayor Eduardo Paes’ assurances after the disaster they would be “re-housed with dignity,” 368 of the former Morro do Bumba residents have been living in makeshift accommodation since then.
The unhygienic living environment has likely led to two of the groups’ children succumbing to pneumonia over the last twelve months, while cases of dengue fever, hepatitis and tuberculosis have also been reported.
The unfortunate circumstances have also caught the attention of the city council. Last Friday Niterói Councilman Henrique Vieira filed for the opening of a parliamentary inquiry in order to investigate irregularities with the policies created to deal with the people displaced by the floods. Public hearings are also scheduled to take place concerning the faults that were made.
“The policies undertaken have caused a reproduction of tragedy in the lives of these suffering people. In the 3rd BI, the conditions are inhumane. There is evidence of irregularities in rent assistance. Now, [in the new project] the buildings threaten to fall even before they are ready,” Councilman Vieira told O Globo.
In 2009, Imperial Serviços was one of eleven companies under investigation by civil police for attempting to rig bids on public contracts. The case however has not yet come to court and is being investigated by the Center for Combating Corruption and Money Laundering.