Brazil: the Red Cross helps the people of Rio you won’t see on postcards

02-10-2008 Feature

The Brazilian Red Cross, with the support of the ICRC, has held a first-aid course for people living in two slum districts of Rio de Janeiro where violence is prevalent and health services are scarce. There are plans to extend this first-aid training programme to other parts of Rio that are considered to be at risk. The ICRC is also running a programme aimed at reducing the humanitarian impact of violent situations involving the police.

Read also: Armed violence and humanitarian action in urban areas  

  ©ICRC/Marizilda Cruppe    
  Favela residents at a first-aid course run by the Brazilian Red Cross in conjunction with the ICRC    

The southern part of Rio de Janeiro is the stuff postcards are made of. But the pictures of idyllic beaches, white sands and blue seas only tell half the story. In the famous city on the south-east coast of Brazil, wealth and poverty, luxury and deprivation exist side by side.

Away from the beaches lie enormous, crowded shanty towns known as favelas. When the favelas expand and their boundaries meet, they become known as complexos. These are large areas with few public services and a very high level of violence.

  Marcília Honorato lives in Nova Holanda, one of the quarters making up the A Maré complex of favelas in the north of Rio de Janeiro.Taking part in a Brazilian Red Cross course persuaded her to become a volunteer in the organization.

  “People living in A Maré have to go to a health post, because there are problems getting to the nearest UPA (Unidad de Pronto Atendimento, or first-aid centre) in Vila João, which is open 24 hours a day. The problem is not just that the UPA is further away. The armed groups in Vila João and A Maré are rivals, so many people think twice before going there, especially in an emergency.   In some areas ambulances can’t get in because there simply isn’t room. But there are some where they daren’t go because of power struggles. The SAMU (Serviço de Atendimento Médico de Urgência, or emergency medical service) will only enter if the caller has obtained clearance from the local armed group. It’s easier to get in during the day, harder at night.” 
According to estimates, Rio de Janeiro’s 513 favelas are home to 1 million people, or a fifth of the city’s population.

The communities of O Alemão and A Maré lie in the northern part of Rio. Many of the 200,000 residents have limited access to health services and suffer the consequences of clashes between police and armed groups.

The Brazilian Red Cross, working together with the ICRC, has conducted an initial first-aid course for 49 residents of O Alemão and A Maré. The course finished in August, and the programme is to be extended to other communities in Rio that are considered to be at risk, i.e. those with a combination of high levels of violence and a lack of services.

The organization hopes that the project will enable first-aiders to treat people injured by violence or domestic accidents, and to pass on health tips to their neighbours.

“We want these people to know how to save lives, without making any distinction of any sort,” said Michel Minnig, head of the ICRC’s regional delegation for southern Latin America.

 Cooperation between the ICRC and the Brazilian Red Cross  


  ©ICRC/Marizilda Cruppe  
  Favela residents practice first-aid techniques    
    The first-aid courses for residents of A Maré and O Alemão mark a new level of cooperation between the ICRC and the Brazilian Red Cross. Until know, the ICRC has been supporting the restructuring of the Brazilian Red Cross and helping it build up its operational capacity. However, this is the first time that the two organizations have conducted joint activities in Rio’s deprived communities. The project is also being supported by two local associations, Luta Pela Paz (“fight for peace”) and Educap ( Espaço Democrático de União, Convivência, Aprendizado e Prevenção , the “democratic federation for unity, coexistence, learning and prevention”).

As well as providing educational, material and financial support, the ICRC is implementing the Safer Access programme within the National Society, establishing a security framework for volunteer work.

 Dialogue with the police  


Working with the communities of A Maré and O Alemão is one side of the coin. Working with the police is the other.

Since 1998, the ICRC has been running a programme aimed at reducing the humanitarian impact of violent situations involving the police, by helping the police integrate international human rights standards and humanitarian principles into their work.

The programme has enabled the ICRC to train over 1,000 military police instructors from all over Brazil. Since 2006, the programme has also included the revision of doctrine, police training programmes and procedures governing the use of force and firearms in nine of Brazil’s states, including Rio de Janeiro.