Rio De Janeiro’s Eco Barriers: Protecting the Environment or Hiding the Slums?


Debate is raging over Rio De Janeiro’s proposed eco-barriers designed, according to officials, to protect its endangered Atlantic coast forest.

There’s no question that the Atlantic forest, which has over 20,000 plant species, 950 bird species and more than two dozen Critically Endangered vertebrate species, needs protecting. More than 90 percent of the forest has already disappeared over the past hundred years – initially due to coffee and sugarcane plantations and later, to urbanization.

But the building of the huge concrete walls (up to 10 feet in some places) as “eco-barriers'” to contain urban sprawl is seen by critics  not as a means of protecting the forest but a strategy for walling in and containing the city’s favelas (slums).

The wall critics argue that the eco-barriers are a cover for cleaning up the city in preparation for the World Cup in 2014 and the possibility of the city hosting the Olympics in 2016.

Officials, however, say that’s simply not the case. What remains of Brazil’s Atlantic forest needs to be protected and eco-barriers appear to be the best and easiest way to do this.

Construction of the controversial concrete walls began in March, but so far only a few hundred yards have been completed.

Meanwhile, at least one city neighbourhood, the Rocinha favela, has come up with an alternative solution that both residents and local officials are happy with. Instead of a high concrete wall, Rocinha’s eco-barrier will take the form of a park, complete with nature paths and community space.

It remains to be seen whether this alternative solution could also be created at the other 12 designated locations that the local officials have determine require barriers. After all, it sounds like a much more environmentally friendly way to deal with protecting the forest.

Further reading about this fascinating debate can be found at the Christian Science Monitor‘s bright green blog.

Image: Rocinha aerial view courtesy skyscrapercity