There are also houses in Campos near BR-101 whose residents are subject to heavy traffic and fatal accidents.
Tragedies and deaths due to heavy rains, landslides and floods in urban areas have been frequent in Rio de Janeiro cities such as Petropolis, Paraty, Angra dos Reis and also in the capital. The risks of similar problems also arise in the vast municipality of Campos dos Goitacases. In the countryside, in the periphery and in urban areas, there are hundreds of structures that are out of order or in a poor state of preservation that threaten people’s lives. Urban planners and social action experts have criticized the government for its lack of housing policy and the preservation of areas such as river and lake banks. Residents of several places considered unsafe are torn between staying and moving.
Houses built in places prohibited by law are easily identified in Campos. In the area of Fundao, Guarus, between the Paraiba do Sul river and BR-356, there are several buildings in a non-standard position. Some of them are visible from the General Dutra and Alair Ferreira bridges, located near the center. Gustavo Manhaines is a member of the Association of Engineers and Architects of the North Fluminense (Anfea). He draws attention to the risks in this area, in addition to others in the municipality.
“Federal law does not allow building near rivers and lakes in order to protect the environment. However, the inefficiency of public authority and the lack of oversight contribute to illegal constructions. We are aware of the economic and social problem and that people prefer to occupy territories in urban areas; this does not normally occur outside of the urban axis. Building dwellings near water does not provide a good foundation. There is no guaranteed security. The risk is inevitable, not to mention environmental crimes with wastewater disposal. We see this major problem in Campos and in the rest of Brazil,” he says.
Geographer and Universidade Estadual do Norte Fluminense professor Marcos Pedlowski says building so close to rivers is a concern.
“Building next to rivers, bridges and slopes is never good. The problem is that sometimes people arrived before the bridge was built, as in the case of Alair Ferreira. They have been there in this tumultuous coexistence with the river for many decades. Ideally, we would not have such a situation. Many people occupy these territories not just because they want to. These are the places reserved for them. It is not easy to move them from such areas close to the central region to the periphery, for example, El Dorado Park, Tapera or Ururai, without creating conditions for them to maintain their income. It is known that the construction of housing in an isolated place worsens people’s lives. That’s why it’s such a difficult problem,” he said.
Still on the banks of Highway BR-356 and the Paraiba River, at Aldea I, the report found the retired Marilandia Paes. She left Pernambuco 40 years ago and settled there. He shares a home with his children and grandchildren. The building is full of seepage and cracks. There are also risks of traffic accidents. “It is very dangerous, I am aware of the risks because I have seen several accidents here. There is also a lot of noise. The house is full of problems, but I have nowhere to go. I would leave if I could, but I have no choice.”
Also in Aldeia I, the mason Aldo Chávez builds a house without a license on the edge of a ravine, on the banks of the Paraiba River. He says he has lived there for 55 years. He even moved to a nearby apartment complex, but ended up returning for family reasons. Aldo does not consider the risk zone. “It’s high up here. Even in recent floods, water did not flood the land. I don’t think it’s dangerous. I have always lived here and never had any problems. I intend to stay.”
Family drama and the desire to change
The neighborhood of Guarus is home to hundreds of dilapidated houses, haphazardly built on the banks of lakes, canals and highways. In Santos Dumont Park, eight kilometers from the center, at least 200 residences near BR-101 are at risk. Over the past few decades, assaults and deaths have been recorded at this place. One of them took the life of Marco Antonio, who is only 9 years old, in 2012. He died in front of his house. Sister Tamirez dos Santos recalls the tragedy:
“He was only 9 years old. Here the speed of cars is always high. It is very dangerous. This is the pain we all bear with this death. I want to get out of here, but we’re dependent on a house provided by City Hall. We appealed to municipal registries, but there were no answers,” he says.
Ivanessa dos Santos is another sister of the deceased boy. She lives with her grandmother Doralina Correia in a tiny house where a few people squeeze through in tight quarters. He says he wants to leave this place. “I would definitely move. I lost a lot here,” he says. Despite the drama and terrible living conditions, the matriarch resists the move. “I have lived here all my life. Despite the difficulties, I got used to it. But if the majority wants to leave, so do they. But we have nowhere to go,” says the old woman.
Locals are torn between leaving and staying, despite poor conditions and the constant risk of accidents. The man, who asked not to be named, says he has been living there for 50 years. “I would go to a better place. There are about 200 objects here. We have been registered with City Hall for many years. I think most people want to leave in search of better living conditions,” he says. Jetre Moreira, a 23-year-old housewife, thinks the same way. “I have two children, I applied to the city hall to get a house, but I never succeeded. I would like to move to a better house,” he says.
During the administration of Mayor Rozinha Garotinho (2009-2016), the Morar Feliz housing program was supposed to build 10,000 popular houses. Only half has been completed. Several families from the Santos Dumont Park on the shore of BR-101 were moved to new residences at the time. However, many remained in place. The government of Vladimir Garotinho positioned itself in a note on risk areas and requirements for housing in a safe place:
“The Municipal Department of Human and Social Development reports that families have been evicted from almost all risk areas and relocated to the housing projects of the Morar Feliz program. Some people returned to their places of origin, while others did not agree to leave the property. The municipality is updating the number of residents in areas deemed at risk and continuing dialogue with the state and federal governments to minimize the municipality’s housing shortage.”
Sociologist and Uenf professor Lucian Silva says that families in risk areas face environmental racism. “This is clearly visible when we observe the affected population not only in Campos, but also in other cities such as Rio de Janeiro, Petropolis and other states. Typically, these are people of color who do not have the purchasing power to pay for housing in urban areas. Campos is an interesting place to think about life in gated communities. Real estate speculation is huge. There is vertical integration in the Pelinka area, the city with the largest area in the state of Rio de Janeiro. We don’t have a housing department. The case of Novo Horizonte is exemplary for thinking about Campos and Brazil precisely because the mayor’s office recognizes that 700 families have been evicted from this place,” he says.
Climate, research and solutions
Professor Markos Pedlowski reminds us that extreme weather conditions should prevail in the coming decades. “It will make this discussion more relevant and necessary. As we saw in Petropolis, the most vulnerable areas where the poor have found a place to settle will be the hardest hit by extreme weather events. The solution will be to democratize the actions of the state in terms of taking over urban land, because only then will we have poor people living in dangerous areas. But to do this, we need to have governments that are ready to carry out structural reforms, which will only happen with a lot of pressure and organization from the majority of the population,” he says.
Professor Ana Paula Arruda is a Postgraduate in Regional Planning and Urban Management at Candido Mendez University. She says Brazil’s urbanization pattern is exclusionary and unequal. “It is important for the municipality to map risk areas and also think about better alternatives in light of the urban management tools provided in the Master Plan. Campos has already experienced several housing programs. But it is very important to pay attention to the quality of these projects; and if they actually guarantee urban inclusiveness and the right to the city,” he said.
The Center for Research and Socio-Environmental Research at the Federal University of Fluminense analyzes the risks associated with environmental disasters such as floods and permanent floods in Campos dos Goitacasis. Sociologist Erica Tavares says the group has already worked in the Ponta Grossa, Morro do Coco, Guarus and Tapera areas, among others. They are currently located in the Ururai region and in the Santo Eduardo region:
“Unfortunately, there is no accurate assessment of the situation of endangered housing in Campos. This is the first step in the implementation of the measures. Before any intervention, the public authorities must conduct studies on the condition of these territories and evaluate possible alternatives with the participation of the population. The interventions carried out in Campos, mainly through housing policy, did not take into account the voices of those affected and did not promote participatory mechanisms. New housing may be a solution for some families. However, for many of them, urban policies are needed that take into account the possibility of preserving these social groups in the territories where they have always lived, provided that the environmental conditions in the surrounding area improve,” he says.
Social worker and research coordinator at the UFF core, Antenora Siqueira, explains that the classification of places in “risk areas” is not agreed upon.
“You have to know what the risk is and the risk to whom. We need to listen to those who have suffered or suffered from floods, for example. Violence, not water, is often the biggest risk; and what strategies can be used if they feel unsafe. If the risk is flooding, it is important to build responses to them. Research shows that in Campos, several families left their homes (voluntarily or involuntarily) for housing projects and began to live with risks other than flood risk. Neighborly relations, everyday life with school, church, local clinic were violated. Much of the rubble was not removed from the sites and became a haven for rats and insects, which created problems for the remaining residents. There are families who want to return to their area of origin. These are citizens who have constitutional rights and do not have access to them,” he concludes.