Thursday, 14 June 2012

The other side of Rio

I'm not blaming Rio for its patchy, rainy weather and I'm not blaming it for the sub-standard accommodation I find myself in. But I am disappointed so far.

I arrived in Rio de Janeiro on Monday morning, very early, after an 11 hour flight from Paris.The reason for being here was to attend key meetings concerning a project which is part of my work, as well as to attend the international conference for the International Society for Ecological Economics. This field is not my forte but I thought it might be helpful to attend in order to gain more awareness of what my colleagues and the organisation I work for are interested in.

This was not a tourist visit but even so I was struck by what assailed my senses on the way in from the airport. Firstly it was the smell. The smell of polluted water-pollution from wastewater. You can smell it for kilometres. How ironic, I thought, that Rio + 20 is being held here in a few days. Then again, what better place to hold it as an example of what's going horribly wrong with the behaviours and attitudes of humans to the environment.

As I walked the streets of Rio I was gobsmacked at the rubbish everywhere; sometimes in piles, sometimes just strewn everywhere on every street at every few centimetres. There is no footpath maintenance or cleaning. It's hard to see what the city council does to provide a healthy environment for its people. Forget the rock, forget the statue-they are meaningless. For me the reality on the ground was a huge disappointment. There are so many disintegrating, graffitied buildings. There is little evidence of civic pride. Despite the thousands of extra security staff for all the conferences and meetings associated around Rio + 20 it all seems so squalid.

The afternoon tour was washed out. We couldn't see across the harbour, the bridge disappeared in the murk as we all huddled together under umbrellas yet still got wet. Not the best start but we were philosophical. Rio is a big city and what is odd for me, the poor live on the hillsides while the rich live down below.

The favelas (slums) are actually pointed out on maps and are given names yet barriers or opaque and translucent panels are erected along the motorways to hide them from view. If you try hard enough you can catch a glimpse of this other reality. It's like a war zone with rubble everywhere, animals wandering, skeletons of buildings, most without roofs. And people have to survive in there. Shameful! There's crime, organised crime and it touches many people.

On the second day we travelled by bus to visit FIOCRUZ, the national school for public health. It's virtually in a compound with the favelas next door to it. There were security guards on the entrance. We were told that we were not to leave the compound. There had been shootings nearby recently as the mafia and others fought drug wars so the area was dangerous. We did as we were advised and stayed put, travelling only via our bus. This was the first time I had visited a South American country and so far the experience isn't very positive. I hope that might change before I have to leave at the end of next week.


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