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Rocinha - An Inside Look at Brazilian's Largest Favela

Rocinha exists. Rocinha resists.


With an estimated population of approximately two hundred thousand inhabitants, Rocinha is considered one of the largest favelas in Brazil and in whole Latin America.


As an old local saying: “Rocinha is Rio and Rio is Rocinha”. The city has more than 800 favelas in its territory. The burden of being the biggest and the most famous one is a true reflection of Brazilian history. The colonized past still deep-rooted up the favela’s tight hills. Most critical social issues some refuse to see are being put on a spotlight by the global pandemic. The collapse of the whole public health system is unveiling the hidden stories of those who have been always affected by social chaos. Is this just another outbreak they will have to battle against?

The favela emerged and developed in a native Atlantic Rainforest area located on a mountain between two of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the city of Rio de Janeiro; Gávea and São Conrado. This urban contrast exposes Rio’s social inequality and opens up the veins of the social tragedy that is responsible for one of the lowest HDI in Brazil.


Surrounded by a forest, the humidity is felt through the back streets and alleys. The mountain forced the shacks to be built on top of each other. Natural agglomeration. This disastrous combination is one of the reasons why Rocinha is the favela with the highest number of respiratory diseases in the city, tuberculosis is one of them. Add that to the fact that sunlight does not enter most houses, ventilation is rare and basic sanitation is a distant reality the risk of contamination and spread of Covid-19 is already a real threat floating invisibly through its thin streets.

The residents live with the fear of which drips down the open ditches. The humidity is felt on the skin where is night every day. A difficult choice is up the table, leave the house and face COVID or stay home in hunger. The endless stairways are a real test for the lungs and are a part of the natural labyrinths of alleys. 


A reality that transforms a majority into a minority through imposed barriers made by an oppressor social system. Rio de Janeiro, for its natural geography, squeezes the population between the lovely mountains and the sea. However, the city's history tells us another story. It hides the immense social distance up in the hills. 

It is an epidemic within an epidemic.


Social complexity is not only explained by its geography and statistics, but the fact that this favela has been abandoned by the government for years also brings up social issues that put the pandemic on a larger scale. The list is massive and includes total control by drug trafficking, medical posts without any structure to properly attend the infected, community agents falling ill on the front lines, lack of mass testing, a considerable underreporting of cases and deaths. At this moment, Rocinha has more confirmed cases than 860 cities in Brasil and the lethality rate is up to 40%. Brasil could become the world's next epicenter and Rocinha is definitely a hotspot as social issues collide with Covid-19. 

Rocinha is a true metaphor for Rio de Janeiro. The multicultural, multiracial and multiethnic soul shows us the real facet of the city. You can hear the silent echoes of the famous samba and funk music through the ocean of shacks. 


It is a city within a city.