As tough as it is to see poverty around the world, it is part of humanity and the favelas are a huge part of Rio, a city of some 7 million people. Rio is very segregated in terms of its residents wealth, extremes from large mansions to slums.
Our guidebook said it best. From DK Eyewitness Travel:
Favela neighborhoods are as much a part of the city’s landscape as Corcovado and Sugar Loaf, they are often erroneously called slums and while some are, the majority are simply Rio’s main areas of poor housing. It is estimated that there are some 800 favelas, housing up to 20% of the city’s population. They are complex and vibrant communities, many still run by drug lords and violence is not uncommon. But the majority of people who live in favelas are law-abiding citizens working in low-paying jobs.
Many of you might recognize these images from the excellent 2002 movie City of God. If you haven’t seen it, Netflix it today.
While now there is water and electricity, it wasn’t always the case. Same with sanitation and police presence for that matter. The city of Rio is working toward hooking the favelas to the sewer system but they aren’t there yet, hence one gorgeous beach down stream of one favela is fatally polluted. The beach sits empty. The water black.
We were told one favela was assisted financially in large part by Michael Jackson. Why, we don’t know, but there is a statue of him in recognition of his concern.
We were also told that after ten years living in a favela, one is granted ownership. There has become a real estate market, of sorts, for them since there is no more land on which further favelas can be built. So people do sell them from time to time.
It is hard sometimes to be a voyeur to such poverty. To take a photo, then return to the confines of a fine hotel. But that is life. Sad, but true.