Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Rio de Janeiro is enjoying the international spotlight. The second largest city in Brazil, Rio will host both the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics. More than six million people call the city beloved for its scenery and samba home. Probably best known internationally for the large samba festival of Carnival, the city also hosts one of the largest national forests within an urban area. The blend of spectacular views and rich culture make the city an ideal tourist destination.

In the past, however, Rio was internationally known for violence-wracked and impoverished slum areas, called favelas. Unlike other cities these “slums” are not found in one section of town or on the outskirts of town but are interspersed throughout the city. Ignored in the past as illegal settlements by the local and national governments, the favelas developed their own infrastructure and governance. Often, those ad hoc systems lacked functional services to handle necessary municipal services like water and sanitation. Approximately 1.2 million people live in the almost 100 favelas in Rio de Janeiro and serious problems from trash and sewage threaten both the health of the people and the environment. With international events looming, the government has been trying to integrate these neglected communities and improve the lives of the people who live there.

Certain favelas have been “pacified”, meaning that a government police program called UPP (Unidades de Polícia Pacificadora or Pacified Police Units) has been employed in these neighborhoods. A social development program, UPPSocial, is slowly trying to build the missing infrastructure and provide services to these neighborhoods. Progress is slow, but Rio is better known now for its beautiful beaches and cultural heritage than for social issues.

In 2012 and 2013 Project WET focused on improving health in some of Rio de Janeiro’s poorest neighborhoods through a customized water education program, Educação e Água (Education and Water).