By Philip Sever, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – Government officials announced on Tuesday that construction of a wall has already begun around the favela of Dona Marta (also known as Santa Marta) in Botafogo. This is the first of many walls planned for Rio’s favelas, with seven miles of wall to be built around at least 11 of Rio’s favelas this year alone. Icaro Moreno, president of the state’s public works department, explained that this was to stop deforestation of the Atlantic rain forest which surrounds Rio.
Construction of the wall began a few weeks ago and so far 100 meters of wall has been constructed. “Each year that passes we’re losing more of the Atlantic rain forest,” Moreno said, “now, we’re setting limits on where these communities can expand.” Brazil’s national institute of space research states that deforestation of Rios Atlantic rain forest has doubled over the last three years. This has occurred as Rio’s favelas have continued to grow.
Up to 600 homes will be destroyed during the walls construction. Moreno stated that new government housing within the favela will be provided for those left homeless during the wall constructions across Rio.
Human rights groups claim that the walls have been built to keep residents of the favela segregated from the rest of Rio society. Drawing comparisons with the Israeli West bank barrier separating Palestine from Israel. Moreno rejected such criticism claiming that the aim of wall construction was to reduce deforestation not to segregate favela residents. However Moreno also claimed that by the end of next year, 40 favelas will have walls.
Dona Marta has become an example of how a favela can become safe. Dona Marta is the first favela to have (legal) electricity, water on tap, internet and most notably the first drug free favela in Rio. Less than 10 years ago Dona Marta was considered to be one of the most dangerous favelas in Rio equal to Rocinha and Vidigal. However things have changed to such an extent that Dona Marta is now considered an example of a safe favela.
In 2008 a new nursery was built for the children of Dona Marta, reform of the existing nursery was completed. A new football pitch with astro turf was built. New sewer, water and drainage systems were implemented and 146 homes had refurbishments completed. It is planned by the end of this year another 191 new homes will be built and 517 homes will have improvements made upon them.