A United Nations report published ahead of the Fifth World Urban Forum in Brazil says the proportion of the population of Brazil living in “favelas” or shantytowns was reduced 16 percent between 2000 and 2010.
In Brazil, a country of 192 million people, those that have escaped slum conditions annually over the last decade did so as a result of slum upgrading. Most of the families in this country who have left behind their status as slum dwellers actually stayed in the favelas, but with more services and urban infrastructure, or neighboring municipalities and the outskirts of cities.
Geographer Jailson de Souza, founder of the Observatorio de Favelas, a social organization that carries out research on Brazil’s shantytowns, and who is currently secretary of education in the Rio de Janeiro municipality of Nova Iguaçu, said the term “favela” is not necessarily synonymous with “slum.”
“U.N. experts might not consider some of our most populous neighbourhoods informal settlements or slums,” he said, citing La Rocinha in Rio de Janeiro, classified by some as a lower middle-class or working-class neighbourhood.
He said that what has been seen in Brazil is “a steady improvement in living conditions in the favelas, which does not mean a reduction in the number of people living in those areas.”
In fact, some of the country’s favelas have even expanded in size, such as those of Rio de Janeiro, the second-biggest Brazilian city after São Paulo to the south.
According to the Pereira Passos municipal institute, between 1999 and 2008, the surface area covered by favelas in Rio de Janeiro expanded by around three million square meters.
And the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) reported that in 2008, one-third of Brazil’s 5,554 municipalities contained favelas.
But many of these neighborhoods experienced improvements, as a result of spending on housing by governments – which has increased although it has not kept up with demand – and of rising income and employment, which has “enabled workers to spend more on their homes and seek new housing alternatives,” de Souza said.
Today, the middle class absorbs more than 50 percent of total income in Brazil, compared to one-third in 1992, he pointed out. Between 2003 and 2008, some 32 million people experienced an improvement in their socioeconomic status, including 2.6 million who joined the consumers market for the first time, the economist said.
And according to the U.N. Habitat report, the number of Brazilians living in slums was reduced by 10.4 million people over the last decade, with the most significant improvement being seen in sanitation.
The report refers to certain socioeconomic policies that have been adopted and mentions the drop in the birth rate and in rural-to-urban migration in Brazil, although it notes that 54 million people still live in favelas.