Geography - Urban issues and challenges - Rio


Why is Rio important?

Second most populous city in Brazil (over 6.5 million residents), second wealthiest city in Brazil ($201 billion GDP, contributes 5% Brazil’s total GDP), 20% of city in slums

  • Rio de Janeiro is capital to the state of Rio de Janeiro
  • Rio concentrates 68% of the state's economic strength
  • Until 1960, Rio was the capital of Brazil
  • It's the nation's culture capital with over 50 museums and the famous annual carnival
  • It's headquarters to Brazilian oil/mining companies including TNCs, Petrobras/Vale
  • Major Brazilian entertainment and media organisations are based in Rio
  • Home to many universities/institutes, accounts for 17% of national scientific output
  • Rio is a UNESCO World Heritage site and staged 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics
  • One of most visited cities in Southern Hemisphere, due to natural surroundings
  • The statue of Christ the Redeemer is one of the Seven New Wonders of the World
  • It is an international transport hub, with 5 ports and 3 airports
  • It has a major port, exporting coffee, sugar and iron ore produced in Brazil
  • Rio is considered a 'global city' due to its importance in the global economy
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Opportunities of urban growth in Rio

  • Many more, better paid jobs created
  • Brings money into Brazil
  • Boosts the tourist economy
  • More services provided
  • Sense of community
  • Internationally recognised (attracts TNCs/international companies)
  • More choices for people living there (variety of jobs, better education and healthcare)
  • More diverse, rich in culture
  • New skills brought to city
  • Raises taxes to be invested in city
  • Higher quality of living available
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Challenges of urban growth in Rio

  • Over crowding
  • Not enough housing/facilities, a lack of sanitation, and poor education
  • Damaging for the landscape and local environment
  • Not enough jobs and people don’t have any/good enough skills for work = lots of unemployment
  • Spread of diseases
  • High taxes, but no benefits being seen
  • Pollution
  • Poverty and homelessness
  • Higher crime rates (drug trafficking)
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Social challenges and solutions: Healthcare


  • In 2013, only 55% of the city had a local family health clinic
  • Services for pregnant women and the elderly were very poor, especially...
  • the West Zone:
  • Infant Mortality Rate was 21 per 1000
  • Only 60% of pregnant women got medical care
  • Life expectancy was just 45 (compared to 80 in middle class area of Barra da Tijuca)


  • Medical staff go to houses with medical kits that can detect 20 different diseases that they are able to treat
  • Since this, the infant mortality rate has decreased and life expectancy has increased
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Social challenges and solutions: Education


  • Education in Brazil is compulsory for all children aged 6-14
  • In Rio, only half of all children continue their education beyond the age of 14
  • Many drop out of school and some get involved in drug trafficking
  • The level of school involvement in Rio is low due to:
  • A shortage of nearby schools
  • A lack of money and need to work
  • A shortage of teachers
  • Low pay and poor training for teachers


  • Encourage local people to volunteer to help in schools
  • Give school grants to poor families to help them meet the cost of keeping their children in school
  • Make money available to pay for free lessons in sport in Rocinha favela
  • Open a private university in Rocinha
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Social challenges and solutions: Water Supply


  • Around 12% of Rio's population did not have access to running water
  • It is estimated that 37% of water is lost through leaky pipes, fraud, and illegal access
  • The situation has become worse in recent years


  • 7 new treatment plants were built between 1998 and 2014
  • Over 3km of pipes were laid
  • By 2014, 95% of the population had a mains water supply
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Social challenges and solutions: Energy


  • The whole city suffers frequent blackouts due to a shortage of electricity
  • The growing population and the demands of the Olympics made the situation worse
  • Many people living in the poorer parts of Rio get their electricity by illegally tapping into the mains supply, which is risky and unsafe


  • Installed 60km of new power lines
  • Built a new nuclear generator
  • Developed the new Simplicio hydro-electric complex which will increase Rio's supply of electricity by 30%
  • It took 6 years to build and cost over $2 billion
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Economic opportunities

  • Rio's large population, financial sector, port facilities and industrial areas have contributed to Rio’s rapid economic development
  • The city now provides more than 6% of all employment in Brazil
  • Oil has been discovered just off the coast and this has encouraged the growth of oil related industries
  • Economic development has brought improvements to Rio’s roads, transport, services and environment
  • The growth of Rio’s industrial areas has boosted the city’s economy
  • Rio has one of the highest incomes per head in the country, and the city’s retail and consumer sector is a major source of employment
  • A growing number of jobs are provided by service industries, such as finance
  • Growing economic prosperity has attracted large companies to Rio from other parts of Brazil and South America, as well as from abroad
  • These developments have created a range of new economic opportunities in the formal economy
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Economic challenges

  • Unemployment rates in the favelas are over 20%, and most work is in the informal sector, which is poorly paid (less than £60 a month) and irregular
  • About one third of Rio’s 3.5 million workers don’t have a formal employment contract, and many are without any insurance cover or unemployment benefit
  • They do not pay taxes as the government receives no income from them
  • Despite the growth of job opportunities in the city, unemployment is one reason why there are such wide contrasts in wealth in Rio
  • The richest 1% of the population earns 12% of the total income
  • But the income of the poorest 50% is only 13% of the total
  • Brazil’s economy was hit by a deep recession in 2015, which has increased unemployment
  • Robbery and violent crime present great challenges in Rio
  • Murder, kidnapping, carjacking and armed assault occur regularly
  • Street crime is a problem, especially at night
  • Powerful gangs control drug trafficking in many areas of the favela
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Environment challenges + solutions: Air Pollution


  • Air pollution causes 5000 deaths per year in Rio
  • Heavy traffic causes a build up of exhaust fumes
  • Factory chimneys release pollutants
  • The number of cars has grown by over 40%


  • Improvements have been aimed at reducing traffic congestion and improving air quality:
  • Expansion of the metro system under Guanabara Bay to South Zone and Barra da Tijuca
  • New toll roads into the city centre to reduce congestion
  • Making coast roads one-way during rush hours, to improve traffic flow
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Environment challenges + solutions: Water Pollutio


  • Guanabara Bay is highly polluted, causing a threat to wildlife
  • Commercial fishing has declined by over 90% in the last 20 years
  • If pollution affects Ipanema and Copacabana then the tourist industry could be threatened
  • Rivers flowing into the bay are heavily polluted by over 200 tonnes of raw sewerage from the favelas each day
  • Over 50 tonnes of industrial waste enters the bay each day
  • There have been oil spills from the Petrobras refinery
  • Ships empty their fuel tanks in the bay


  • Overseas aid has been used to reduce the amount of sewerage being released into the bay:
  • 12 new sewerage works have been built since 2004 at a cost of US$68 million
  • Ships are fined for discharging fuel into the bay illegally
  • 5km of new sewerage pipes have been installed around badly polluted areas
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Environment challenges + solutions: Waste Pollutio


  • The worst waste is in the favelas which...
  • ...are built on steep slopes and...
  • ...have few proper roads...
  • waste collection is difficult
  • Waste is therefore dumped
  • This causes diseases like cholera and encourages rats
  • The world's largest landfill Jardin Gramacho was built on ecologically sensitive wetland in 1970s, adjacent to the bay, and was closed in 2012 after 34 years of operation


  • A power plant has been set up near the University of Rio using methane gas (biogas) from rotting rubbish
  • It consumes 30 tonnes of rubbish a day
  • It produces enough electricity for 1000 homes
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Characteristics of favelas

  • illegal, unplanned, crowded
  • poor quality, built with waste materials
  • unstable and at risk of falling (especially in a landslide)
  • limited access to public services such as healthcare and education
  • no public transport, no waste collection, no official law enforcement
  • lack of running water/electricity/sanitation
  • CRIME:
  • drug trafficking, gang violence, kidnapping, carjacking, murder rate is 20 per 1000
  • high unemployment rates
  • informal sector, businesses not paying taxes
  • manual, low paid work (street sellers/shoe shiners/collecting from rubbish tips)
  • poor health, lower life expectancy, higher infant mortality rate
  • no access to good healthcare
  • unsanitary conditions, sewage, rats, rubbish dumping = spread of diseases
  • lack of contraception = higher birth rate
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Favela Bairro project (site and service)

  • A site and service scheme is where the local authority provides land and services for residents to build homes
  • paved and formally named roads
  • access to a water supply and drainage system for improved sanitation
  • hillsides secured to prevent landslides, or people relocated where necessary
  • building of new health, leisure and education facilities
  • installation of a cable car system across the Complexo do Alemão hillsides (inhabitants are given one free return ticket a day)
  • access to credit to allow inhabitants to buy materials to improve their homes
  • 100% mortgages available for people to buy their homes
  • a Pacifying Police Unit (UPP) set up, with police patrolling the community
  • Quality of life, mobility and employment prospects of the inhabitants of the favelas has improved because of the developments made possible by the project
  • It has been recognised as a model by the UN and been used in other Brazilian cities
  • The budget of US$1 billion may not cover every favela
  • The newly built infrastructure is not being maintained
  • Residents lack the skills and resources to make repairs
  • More training is needed to improve literacy and employment
  • Rents rise in the improved favelas and the poorest inhabitants are even worse off
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