Representatives from several of the poorest neighbourhoods in Rio de Janeiro recently praised the authorities for instituting a new peace and anti-crime drive, aimed at making the streets safer, cleaner and ensuring better basic service delivery.
Rio by night from the heights of Providência, the 'City of God'. Photo © Mauricio Hora
The peace programme, known by its Portuguese acronym, UPP (Unidade de Policia Pacificadora), was started in July 2008 by the State of Rio de Janeiro using highly police academy graduates to break the stranglehold of drug dealers and gangs in 18 of the city's favelas, as the poor districts are called.
As Rio de Janeiro gears up to host the giant United Nations Rio + 20 gathering in 2012, the 2014 football World Cup, and the 2016 summer Olympics, the city authorities are seeking to help bring peace to 30 favelas a year. Once the first 18 are considered safe, the neighbourhoods then get the added value of the UPP Social Programme, which is supported by UN-HABITAT as part of a new USD 3 million dollar project.
At a meeting with city officials last week, Mr. Alain Grimard, Director of UN-HABITAT's Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean, pledged to maintain, and as necessary, step up the agency's support for the UPP Social programme in a city where the agency has had an agreement with Rio de Janeiro City Hall, since 1996.
He hailed the cooperation with the City which has supported UN-HABITAT's Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean for the past 15 years.
"This is the most important moment in our 15-year partnership because we have the chance to collaborate with the implementation of the social aspect of the UPP initiative. Providing citizenship, and capacity building for youth and women, is the kind of work that can be realized by other local governments," Mr. Grimard said.
The UPP initiative has brought peace to some 275,000 people living in the 18 neighborhoods. Thanks to the programme, young people now have free access public spaces such as football fields, mothers can take their children to school, and most importantly, citizens can move about freely in places where they would never previously have set foot.
"The UPP Social is a positive initiative. I hope this work will continue after the Summer Olympics, in 2016 because almost all of us have doubts about the continuation", said the representative of Prazeres favela, Ms. Eliza Brandão.
In a city of 8 million people, it is estimated that some 20 percent live in the favelas. Officials said that indirectly, the pacification programme was benefitting a futher 800,000 people in the peripheral zones.
"We chose UN-HABITAT on account of its extensive experience with the issue of upgrading slums, as well as on urban management and security," explained Ricardo Henriques, President of the Instituto Pereira Passos, the agency's main institutional partner. "In addition, because of the location and importance of Rio de Janeiro, which strengthens UN-HABITAT's role as a partner with Rio.
The UPP Social "community pacification and integration" programme is organized under three axes: The first, upgrading, involves improvements to public rights of way, street widening, the installation of water and sewerage systems, legal tenure, environmental protection, housing construction, building and land use regulation, and public space and facility maintenance.
Democracy and citizenship is the second axis. These involve conflict resolution, communication channels, regulating use of common spaces, network building, clean streets, and public lighting. The last axis is local development – social (education, health, culture, and sport), economic (employment, income, entrepreneurship, and business creation, and environmental (open space preservation, parks, squares, quality of life).
Although the security issue is important in this new project, what this initiative aims at is to facilitate the integration of the favelas as part of what the officials call a "unique city fabric". For further information click here.