Brazil: Ring Road Project in São Paulo

A favela threatened with displacement by the Ring Road Project, which will force residents to abandon their homes and resettle elsewhere, potentially with little or no compensation.

Through our Strategic Support Program, Accountability Counsel supervised Berkeley Law-based Students for Economic and Environmental Justice (“SEEJ”) in an effort to assist residents of São Paulo in preventing disbursement of funding for the Northern Section of the Mario Covas Ring Road until community concerns are addressed.  The Project was approved by the Inter-American Development Bank (“IDB”) in December 2011, but the IDB has yet to disperse funds.  The Brazilian Institute for Environmental Protection (“PROAM” for its initials in Portuguese), on behalf of a coalition of NGOs representing favela residents at risk of displacement, filed a complaint with the IDB’s accountability mechanism, the Independent Consultation and Investigation Mechanism (“MICI”, for its initials in Spanish) in May 2011, before the Project was approved. Due to serious delays in the MICI process, their concerns have not yet been addressed.

The Mario Covas Rodoanel, or Ring Road, is comprised of four sections that encompass the city of São Paulo.  Two sections of the road have already been constructed, one is under construction, and the final section, the Northern Section, is slated to start construction soon.  It is this section that is under dispute.

Built in an effort to mitigate traffic flow, this Northern Section of the Ring Road (the “Project”) will displace 10,000 to 20,000 poor favela residents against their will.  Most of these residents are unaware of the coming displacement and have not been consulted about the terms of their resettlement.  There is considerable fear that due to issues regarding land titles and the counting of the number of residents in the favelas, many may not receive compensation.

On the outskirts of São Paulo, the UNESCO Green Belt Biosphere Reserve is threatened by the IDB’s Ring Road Project.

The Project is plagued by a lack of transparency and the impacts of the Project are largely unknown because, in addition to the lack of required consultation, neither the mandated Resettlement Plan nor basic Project information, such as the exact location of the road, are publicly available.  According to what documentation is available, the Project as planned will impact sensitive “core areas” of the UNESCO Green Belt Biosphere Reserve, part of the Atlantic Rainforest, with related climate impacts and harm to endangered species.  Additionally, the route may contaminate a drinking water reservoir that supplies water for 9 million people in São Paulo.  The road will also likely contribute toward urban sprawl and further tax the already dwindling water supply.

A group of SEEJ students toured the affected area in 2012.  In February 2013, SEEJ students sent letters to 26 members of U.S. Congress on behalf of Brazilians who will be impacted by the Project.  Accompanying the letters was a detailed report on the Project’s potential impacts and policy violations.  The students and PROAM also sent a press release to American and Brazilian media.  At least one Brazilian newspaper publicized PROAM’s advocacy efforts, concerns about the Project and the letter and report written by SEEJ.  Additionally, PROAM delivered the letter to the President of Sao Paulo’s City Council, who publicly supported the letter to Congress.

Within a few weeks of the campaign, the IDB released to the complainants the Resettlement Plan and the contract between the Bank and São Paulo, documents that the complainants had previously requested but had not received.  MICI also sent the complainants the Terms of Reference for its compliance review, indicating that the mechanism’s process for addressing the residents’ complaints is moving forward.

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