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Focus on Latin America

October 2011

Growing Pains for Brazil's Cities

PhotoFlooding is a thing of the past on the Tiete River

In 1554 a group of Jesuit priests and a local chief founded a modest Catholic mission on a high plateau 70 kilometers inland from the Atlantic Ocean. Nearby rivers and lakes ensured an abundant supply of fresh water and easy navigation.

More than 450 years later that settlement has grown into the metropolitan district of Sao Paulo, the biggest city in Brazil, indeed the fifth largest metropolitan sprawl in the world with a population of nearly 20 million people.

Along with that explosive growth, its towering skyscrapers, private helicopter fleets and burgeoning service industries, Sao Paulo, like all developing cities, has suffered acute growing pains. One of the most severe was the damage done to those once pristine waterways and reservoirs.

The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has been helping Sao Paulo clean up its water systems for several years and tackle other problems such as a soaring crime rate (see separate story on community policing).

Strengthening infrastructure is key to both economic and social development and in another project, the agency is assisting the bustling Brazilian city of Belem to tackle its growing traffic congestion headache.

A Major Problem

PhotoSewage still pours directly into Billings Lake

The Parque dos Quimicos district sits on the fringes of Sao Paulo. It is a pretty area covered with banana, mamona and cow trees. One and two-storey buildings cling to the hillsides and the vast Billings Lake glitters in the distance.

The lake is both a reservoir for the nearby mega city and a recreational area, but there is one major problem spoiling the picture postcard scene: sewage from the nearby area is dumped directly into the lake, parts of which are effectively dead.

In 2005 JICA undertook a study of the problem and there is now a five-year, $60 million project which will effectively hook the entire region into a system of pipes allowing waste to be treated at sewage plants and the lake itself to be cleaned up.

Already completed was another yen loan project to clean up the Tiete River which runs through the center of Sao Paulo. It became so clogged and polluted during the heavy industrialization of the region that it flooded every year, blocking major highway arteries and causing widespread human and economic hardships.

Japan provided an estimated $50 million towards the overall cost and during two phases over a 13 year period nearly 25 kilometers of river were dredged and stabilized, new dams and other hydraulic improvements were made.

Today the flooding has been eliminated and a stable water supply introduced.

PhotoA project to alleviate traffic congestion in Belem city

Belem in the Amazon River basin has grown rapidly to more than two million people and one of its major problems is traffic congestion.

As early as 1991 JICA was involved in preparing a master plan for the city and its environs and a further review and feasibility study were conducted.

With the assistance of a proposed 16.4 billion yen loan 27 the city's main road artery will be upgraded including the construction of a 10 kilometer exclusive bus lane capable of carrying 40,000 passengers at peak hours.

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