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Housing and infrastructure

Census information suggests that there was an overall improvement in housing conditions in Brazil during the 1970s. Rio was no exception to this trend, with the average dwelling improving in terms of both size and quality. Nevertheless, the city continued to face huge housing problems, particularly in the favelas. Referring to these self-help areas, the World Bank (1979: 22) noted that although

a large majority of families live in durable residential structures ... this minimum shelter standard fails to reflect the precarious location (on steep hillsides, in areas subject to periodic flooding or subject to hazardous environmental pollution) and overcrowding of many dwellings, as well as their lack of essential services. Given the modesty of this standard, those families living in structures which fail to classify as durable must make do with very inadequate living conditions.

Official government efforts have not managed to reduce this problem, indeed, the proportion of dwellings classified as slums or favelas appears to have increased through time.5 The share of favelas rose from 9.8 per cent in 1970 to 12.4 per cent in 1991. This means that more than one million people in Rio are living in favelas. Table 9.8 shows the distribution of favelas in the metropolitan area relative to the total housing stock. Rather surprisingly, it shows that the municipality of Rio contains a higher proportion of favelas than more peripheral neighbourhoods. Caxias has the second highest share, followed, at a considerable distance, by Niterói. The proportion of dwellings classified as favelas in the central area, however, has declined over time.6

Table 9.8 Metropolitan Rio de Janeiro: Households living in favelas, 1991

City Total favela settlements Total households (000s) Total favela households (000s) % favelas
Rio de Janeiro 394 1,627.8 203.2 12.4
Periphery (1) 158 839.3 31.9 3.8
Caxias 48 154.4 12.4 8.0
Niteroi 25 117.1 6.5 5.5
S.J. Meriti 18 100.4 3.2 3.2
Nova Iguaçu 57 315.6 8.6 2.7
Itaguaí 4 32.1 0.7 2.1
Other 6 125.2 0.6 0.0
RJMA (2) 552 2,467.1 235.2 9.5
(1)/(2)x100 28.6 34.0 13.5 -

Source: IBGE, Anuário Estatístico, 1991, Rio de Janeiro.

Note: For statistical purposes, a dwelling is here understood as an independent living space having one or more rooms and a private entrance.

Figure 9.2 Rio de Janeiro: Water provision per household by administrative area, 1988 (Source: Sydenstricker, 1993)

In 1988, the metropolitan area of Rio contained over two million people living in dwellings lacking piped water. More homes lacked piped water than in most other metropolitan areas. As figure 9.2 demonstrates, the situation was particularly bad in the newer low-income areas. However, table 9.9 shows that levels of provision did improve between 1981 and 1988. The situation was somewhat better in terms of sewerage facilities, because many homes had a septic tank; again there was a dramatic improvement in the level of provision during the 1980s.

Table 9.9 shows that service and infrastructure provision for the poor is particularly bad. More than one-third of all homes lack water and fewer than one-half have their rubbish collected. The table also shows that conditions are hardly ideal even among the non-poor. The only consolation is that, despite the deteriorating economic conditions, the provision of piped water, sewerage, and rubbish collection improved during the 1980s, even if access to basic education did not.

Table 9.9 Rio de Janeiro: Absence of infrastructure among the poor and non-poor, 1981-1988 (percentage without service)




1981 1985 1988 1981 1985 1988
Piped water 51.2 35.6 35.6 18.7 8.2 12.9
Sewerage 53.1 27.0 31.8 22.6 8.1 9.7
Garbage collection 59.7 52.0 51.5 27.0 17.8 23.5
Basic education 17.2 15.7 17.1 6.6 3.2 5.1

Source: National Household Survey, various years.

Health and education

Health care in metropolitan areas is much better than in the country as a whole and Rio compares quite favourably to most other metropolitan areas. The ratio of doctors, nurses, and hospital beds to inhabitants is superior to that in most other metropolitan areas. And, in line with national trends, the per capita provision of services is improving through time.7 In 1987, there was one hospital bed for every 170 inhabitants and one doctor for every 297 people.

What is disturbing is the unequal distribution of health care facilities within the city. Whereas there is one doctor for every 208 people in the municipality of Rio de Janeiro, the ratio is one to every 603 people in the rest of the city. There is also a major inequality between the provision of private and public health care. Public hospitals contained only one-third of all hospital beds in the municipality of Rio; in the periphery, the proportion was even lower, 14 per cent.

Between 1960 and 1980, the level of literacy in Rio improved from 53 per cent to 68 per cent; by 1988 it had apparently reached 88 per cent (Sydenstricker, 1993: 51). Again, however, there is a major difference between the central areas and the periphery of the city. In 1980, illiteracy in the municipality of Rio was 15 per cent compared to 22 per cent in the periphery.

Education provision seems also to have improved in recent decades. Certainly the numbers of teachers have increased greatly and student/teacher ratios have fallen as a result (table 9.10). The number of students at school increased remarkably during the 1970s but slowed during the 1980s. Indeed, the number of secondary school students actually declined between 1980 and 1988 even though the population in the 14-19 age group increased by 23 per cent. This decline was an undoubted consequence of the recession.

Table 9.10 Rio de Janeiro: Education indicators, 1970-1988

Education levels 1970 1980 1988
Number of schools 1,941 3,850 5,149
Enrolment (thousands) 592 1,698 1,850
Number of teachers n.a. 67,984 88,055
Student/teacher ratio n.a. 25 21
Number of schools 692 577 754
Enrolment (thousands) 242 302 294
Number of teachers 16,940 21,139 24,019
Student/teacher ratio 14 14 12
Number of institutions 209 241 n.a
Enrolment (thousands) 55 77 n.a.
Number of teachers 7,340 14,690 n.a.
Student/teacher ratio 8 5 n.a.

Sources: Demographic Census, 1970 and 1980; National Household Survey, 1988; State of Rio de Janeiro Yearbook, various years.

a. Comprises public and private schools. In most cases, students attend school only in the morning or the afternoon.
b. Includes primary and pre-primary (or elementary) grades.
c. Refers to the number of available courses.


Most journeys in Rio de Janeiro are made by bus. Indeed, at 62 per cent of all motorized trips, bus usage ranks very high by the standards of the world's largest metropolitan areas. It is certainly much higher than in other Latin American metropolises such as São Paulo (54 per cent), Mexico City (51 per cent), and Buenos Aires (45 per cent) (World Bank, 1986: 42-3). The car is the next most important transport mode, accounting for 24 per cent of trips, followed by the metro, with 11 per cent. Car use is much more limited in Rio than in São Paulo, reflecting the former's much lower rate of car ownership (one car for every 9.6 people in 1980 compared to one car per 6.6 people in São Paulo).

Table 9.11 Rio de Janeiro: Number of motor vehicles, 1978, 1982, and 1985



Growth rate

1978 1982 1985 1978-82 1982 85
Cars 721.2 1,018.9 1,058.0 14.2 3.8
Buses 8.9 15.3 13.1 47.1 - 14.4
Commercial 29.5 39.8 42.0 18.6 5.5
Cargo 40.6 49.3 45.1 29.6 - 8.5
Other 39.4 86.5 87.8 15.5 1.5
Total 839.6 1,209.8 1,246.0 15.2 3.0

Source: National Department of Roads Yearbook, various years.

There is a shortage of recent information on the vehicle fleet but data for the late 1970s and the early 1980s, show clearly the effects of the economic recession (see table 9.11). Between 1978 and 1982, there was a dramatic increase in most kinds of motor vehicle; from 1982 until 1985, however, the growth rate slowed and for some kinds of vehicles there was actually a decline. The impact of recession was clearly felt very strongly by the bus and cargo fleets.

Falling fuel consumption and tyre sales further demonstrate that the number of cars on the roads continued to grow very slowly after 1985. Gasohol consumption in the State of Rio de Janeiro reached a peak in 1988 and fell thereafter. What is perhaps more worrying are the figures for diesel-fuel consumption, a good proxy for bus and lorry trips. In a city so highly dependent on bus transport, the steady decline in 1989 and 1990 in diesel sales suggests that there are far fewer buses available. If this interpretation is correct, the poor have been hit particularly hard.

Under current economic conditions the transport situation in Rio is unlikely to change markedly in the near future. The current financial plight of the metro, which carried only 238,000 passengers a day in 1992, means that there is little chance of its being extended. In any case this would be a very expensive option given Rio's physical structure. Much more likely is the development of some kind of light rail solution employing trams or streetcars with dedicated traffic lanes. This would be both an equitable and an efficient approach to the traffic problem.8

Table 9.12 Deaths from respiratory diseases associated with air pollution in major cities of south-east Brazil

Year City Population (000s) Deaths from respiratory diseases Deaths associated with air pollution
1984 Rio de Janeiro 5,177 1,273 40
1988 Belo Horizonte 2,837 1,159 n.a.
1989 São Paulo 9,291 1,708 139

Source: Seroa da Motta and Fernandes Mendes, 1993.

Pollution and environmental policies

Rapid industrialization and metropolitan growth have led to a worsening of urban pollution. Deteriorating environmental conditions have been aggravated by the lack of integrated land-use policies and urban settlement controls. Air pollution unquestionably causes serious health problems and recent studies have tried to estimate the effect that it has on the incidence of respiratory diseases. Seroa da Motta and Fernandes Mendes (1993) show that the number of deaths from respiratory diseases in São Paulo is positively related to climatic conditions.

Table 9.12 presents the available data on deaths from respiratory diseases in Brazil's largest three cities and estimates the number of deaths caused by air pollution. As expected, São Paulo's higher level of industrialization and its much larger ratio of vehicles to inhabitants causes that city to record the highest proportion of deaths through air pollution. No doubt Rio's coastal location also helps to reduce levels of air pollution.

Whether its coastal location helps reduce water pollution is another question. Certainly, the fact that most of Rio's counties are located in a horseshoe around Guanabara Bay creates distinctive environmental problems. The Bay has an area of approximately 400 square kilometres and a perimeter of 131 kilometres and receives most of the city's domestic and industrial waste. Over 300 tons of organic sewage and seven tons of domestic solid waste flow directly into the bay every day. Food-processing, chemical, and petrochemical companies and a busy sea port with 16 oil terminals together discharge 80 tons of industrial waste, 4.7 tons of oil, and 0.4 tons of heavy metals every day (Dubeux, 1994).

Not surprisingly, there has been increasing concern about water pollution since the mid-1970s. Research conducted at local universities and technical agencies soon alerted the public to the seriousness of the issue. Such concern led to the initiation of a comprehensive water pollution control project by FEEMA (State Foundation for Environmental Engineering), the official agency in charge of environmental policies for the State of Rio de Janeiro (FEEMA, 1990).

A new strategy to fight water pollution in the Rio area is about to be implemented at a total cost of nearly US$800 million. The programme's major aims are to reduce the incidence of diseases caused by water pollution, to improve water quality conditions and to resuscitate the fishing industry. Major investments are planned in the area of water supply, sanitation, solid waste control, environmental monitoring, urban resettlement, and institutional support (FEEMA, 1993; JICA, 1993).


Recently, Rio has been subjected to major international press coverage of its crime problems. Articles and television programmes have appeared publicizing the rising crime rate, the drug problem, the activities of death squads, and the attacks being mounted on foreign tourists. An immediate result has been a spectacular fall in the number of tourists: a decline of 41 per cent between 1988 and 1989.9

Table 9.13 presents data on crime in the city from 1966 to 1986. These figures show that crimes against property, including larceny, robbery, extortion, housebreaking, and fraud, increased considerably, but that crimes against the person, including murder and attempted murder, as well as abortions and certain minor offences, declined.

Table 9.13 Metropolitan Rio de Janeiro: Crime indicators, 1966,1978, and 1986



Rio de Janeiro

1978 1986a 1966a 1978 1986
Crimes against property n.a. 8.9 0.8 7.4 11.6
Crimes against persons n.a. 3.2 14.7 5.3 3.4
Traffic accidents 28.2 14.8 40.3 23.4 12.3

Source: State of Rio de Janeiro Yearbook, various years.

a. The crime figures record crimes per thousand persons. The figure for 1966 is an average of those for 1965, 1966, and 1968 figures, and the figure for 1986 is an average of 1985, 1986, and 1987.
b. The number of traffic accidents involving death or injury was divided by the total number of motor vehicles in each administrative area.

Of course, Brazilian crime statistics are unreliable because so few victims make reports to the police. Consequently, it is difficult to say whether the incidence of crime is higher or lower in Rio than in other major Brazilian cities. However, it is probably fair to say that serious crime is getting worse.

Growing crime rates in Rio de Janeiro are frequently attributed to growing poverty. They are perceived to form part of what Lewis (1968) called the "culture of poverty": "a way of life that develops among the poor, in a given social and historical context, characterized by lack of effective participation and integration in the major institutions of society." Drug dealing, prostitution, and organized crime are both a cause and a consequence of poverty. Unfortunately, the crime statistics in Rio are far too limited to investigate this point. What is clear is that crime has become a major political issue in the city.

Emerging issues for the coming decade

Unsuccessful attempts at stabilization in Brazil during the 1980s greatly aggravated the distributive problems caused by the earlier oil shocks and the debt crisis. They also made future recovery more difficult by cutting fixed capital formation as a percentage of the national product from 23 per cent in 1980 to 16 per cent in 1990. Certainly, the major metropolitan areas were badly affected by declines in manufacturing industry, manufacturing value added falling by 2.8 per cent during the 1980s. The vital machinery and metalworking sectors declined by 22 per cent and 4 per cent respectively during the same period. These economic changes have had a strong impact upon the urban system.

Since it is not clear how the national economy will develop in the next few years, it is difficult to predict what will happen to metropolitan growth. What is certain is that urbanization will continue in Brazil as a whole. Even if we assume a continuation of the 1980s trend of zero economic growth into the 1990s, the level of urbanization should still reach 80 per cent by the year 2000. If that mark should be reached, there will be 150 million urban dwellers in Brazil, almost half of whom will be living in the south-east of the country (Tolosa, 1992). Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo will have a combined population of nearly 37 million people. According to these estimates, Rio's population is expected to reach 14 million by the turn of the century.

What is more worrying is that with zero growth, it is likely to be a city with an even worse income distribution and a higher proportion of people living below the poverty line. Continued declines in investment in social infrastructure will have a further detrimental effect on living standards.

A second, more optimistic view of the national economy envisages an annual growth rate of between 4 and 5 per cent, still a little below the 19601990 average of 6 per cent. Such a recovery would be led by manufacturing, and most of the benefits would accrue to the major cities. Despite their problems, these centres still have better infrastructure than most other Brazilian cities. Rio and São Paulo are also located at the heart of the country's most prosperous region. This moderate growth scenario, therefore, foresees no real change in the urban growth pattern of the 1960s and 1970s.

Under either economic growth scenario, the population living in the major cities would grow. Rio will face an inevitable increase in the demand for social infrastructure. Urban services, such as water, sewerage, health, and education, will have to be improved, and one of the challenges facing the authorities is to provide the necessary finance to fund this investment. The new 1988 Brazilian Constitution is critical here in so far as it has modified the basis for public action. Essentially, it has encouraged fiscal decentralization, with more funds being transferred in increasing quantities from the federal government to the state and municipal authorities. In the process, the role of the municipality has become much more important. In future, municipal government will be responsible for public health and for primary education. It will also be required to organize and, if necessary, to provide public transport, to improve the efficiency of urban land use, and to protect the historical and cultural heritage.

If more responsibility has been given to municipal government, there has not been an equivalent transfer of resources. It is here that the Rio area faces a major challenge, since so much of current expenditure is concentrated in sectors such as health and primary education, where direct cost recovery is difficult. Since there is no practical way to bill the large proportion of poor people using those services, costs must be financed through general taxes and transfer revenues. Although cost recovery is possible in the case of services such as rubbish collection and public lighting, Rio's local authorities have a long way to travel in that direction. At present, charges for those two services cover less than one-quarter of their total cost.

Unfortunately, the local authorities have little or no control over the provision of major public services such as electricity, water, and sewerage. Services here are provided by federal agencies and uniform tariffs are applied across the nation. A progressive tariff structure exists in the electricity sector, but water and sewerage charges are based on a relatively high minimum tariff, which means that small consumers tend to pay more for the service than better-off households.

Whatever happens to urban policy under future governments, the future of Rio's people depends on the prospects for economic growth. Without growth there will be little opportunity to reduce poverty or to improve the quality of urban life. Even if growth occurs, adequate provision of basic services to the poor will depend on the efficiency and effectiveness of the local authorities. They need to show greater awareness of the needs of the poor and greater concern for the environment. It is by no means certain that the Rio authorities will be up to the task. If they are not, then social inequality in the metropolitan area is likely to worsen still further. So, too, will traffic congestion and the level of pollution.


The author wishes to thank Werner Baer, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Ronaldo Seroa da Motta and Sonia Rocha, both from IPEA, Rio de Janeiro, for making comments on this paper.


1. Petrópolis county has recently decided to withdraw from the RJNA. Given the recent nature of the change, it has been retained as part of the metropolitan area in the discussion in this chapter.

2. In 1973, a federal law established the first group of eight metropolitan areas: São Paulo, Pôrto Alegre, Curitiba, Belo Horizonte, Salvador, Recife, Fortaleza, and Barlém. One year later, the Rio de Janeiro Metropolitan Area (RJMA) was created. These nine cities together contained 42 million people in 1991.

3. In 1981, the three north-eastern cities of Recife, Fortaleza, and Salvador all had a Gini coefficient of 0.60.

4. Metropolitan poverty lines in Brazil are characterized by a large and increasing variance through time. Besides reflecting wide differences in relative prices between cities, they also reveal important differences in consumer habits and culture. In this respect, there is a major difference between Rio and São Paulo with its much more modern industrial structure and demand profile.

5. The National Housing Bank (BNH) was created in 1964 to finance housing, especially for the lowincome urban population. In 1968 the Bank expanded in order to encompass other social infrastructure investments, in particular water supply and sewage disposal. In 1986, in a controversial political decision, the BNH was closed and most of its functions were trans ferred to the Federal Savings Bank (Caixa Económica Federal). In practical terms, however, this decision implied the virtual dismantling of the housing-finance system.

6. In 1970, the central area, known at the time as Guanabara State, contained 111,000 slum dwellings, with some 565,000 inhabitants, about 13.3 per cent of the population (State of Rio de Janeiro Yearbook, 1971: 27-8).

7. Overall, Brazil had 800 people per doctor in 1987 compared to 2,000 in 1970, although progress in teens of hospital bed provision showed a less marked improvement, from 263 people per bed in 1970 to 223 in 1987.

8. See also chapter 5, above, for a discussion of transport problems in Rio.

9. The annual number of visitors to Rio averaged 101,000 between 1967 and 1970, 286,000 between 1976 and 1978, and reached a peak in 1988, with 762,000 arrivals. The flow fell to 472,000 in 1989 and to 438,000 the year after.

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