By Patricia Maresch, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Two hundred families from the favela Morro do Borel in Tijuca are to leave their homes next month. Their houses, in case of heavy rains, are located in a high-risk area for potential landslides and so the families have been offered new housing in the Zona Oeste (West zone).
Their new homes are located in Paciência, near Campo Grande. The federal government installed the PAC Minha Casa Minha Vida (My Home, My Life) program in that area for families who earn three minimum wages or less. The relocated families from Borel will also be reimbursed for their moving expenses.
Researchers from the Municipal Geo-Rio Institute said that there are 990 houses at risk in Borel alone. The Geo-Rio survey also showed that at least 18,000 homes in 117 favelas in Grande Tijuca are at risk.
This encompasses the localities Alto da Boa Vista, Andaraí, Catumbi, Estácio, Grajaú, Rio Comprido and Vila Isabel. These favelas are also accessible through Cosme Velho, Laranjeiras, Humaitá, Jardim Botanico, São Conrado and Santa Teresa, since they all have access to the Floresta da Tijuca, the Tijuca rainforest.
The Floresta da Tijuca is the world’s largest urban rainforest, covering some 32 square miles. It is also home to hundreds of species of plants and wildlife, many threatened by extinction.
In case of extremely heavy rainfall like there was in the Região Serrana of Rio State last month, the area is in a high risk situation. Geo-Rio’s David Zee told O Globo TV that the rivers Maracanã, Trapicheiros and Joana will be unable to channel the rain.
On some parts of the hills, favela dwellers have been building illegally. Without any supervision of engineers and architects, making the area increasingly prone to landslides and floods. “All the conditions for a possible disaster are there,” said Zee.
The relocation from Tijuca to the Zona Oeste will be a big adjustment for the 200 families from Borel. Some are deeply rooted in the community, having lived there for more than twenty years. But everyone understands the necessity of the measures. During the heavy rains in April last year, ninety families in Borel lost their homes. “We don’t want to repeat this tragedy,” says community leader Roberta Ferreira.
Borel is also one of the first communities to get a siren that will warn people about the danger of landslides. If it rains over a certain limit, an alarm will go off. The city’s Civil Defense will install them in sixty high-risk favelas.
Community leaders in the 117 favelas have been given a special training to help and guide residents in case of emergency. They have also received mobile phones that will be alerted by text message even before the alarm goes off, all in hopes of preventing tragedies such as in the Região Serrana.