city’s multiple challenges ahead of climate meeting

  • Post last modified:March 28, 2024
  • Reading time:13 mins read

In the lead-up to hosting COP30 in 2025, Belém, the capital of Pará in northern Brazil, is confronted with a multitude of pressing issues, from insufficient sanitation and widespread crime to pollution and homelessness, prompting doubts about its preparedness to take the lead on the international platform.

Belém COP23: multiple challenges

First, recent findings from the 2022 Demographic Census conducted by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), reveals that approximately 212,370 individuals, corresponding to 16% of the population in Belém, are presently living under inadequate sanitation.

Ivan Costa, the president of the Brazilian Social Observatory (OSB), a non-governmental organisation based in Belém, explained to the Canary:

Addressing the sanitation issue is not a quick fix, given its complexity. It demands meticulous planning, significant investment, and the establishment of regulatory and inspection mechanisms for sanitation, areas currently lacking in Belém.

Regarding the sewage system, this is a crucial issue. In Belém, numerous canals were improperly filled without oversight, becoming sites for various waste materials that have polluted the entire area, resulting in adverse effects on both the environment and the health of residents.

According to a study conducted by the Trata Brasil Institute, Belém ranks among the cities with the poorest levels of basic sanitation.

Several articles published by Revista Cenarium highlight issues impacting both Belém and its neighbourhoods. They include inadequate garbage collection services and the challenges surrounding the Marituba and Aurá landfills, which serve as disposal sites for waste generated from the metropolitan region.

‘Distressing and worrying’

Rodolfo Salm, PhD in environmental sciences and lecturer at the Federal University of Pará (UFPA) told the Canary:

Belém is a city that leaves a strong impression, primarily due to its staggering waste problem. The abundance of trash, particularly in flood-prone zones, is simply overwhelming. Trash can be found in every corner.

The situation in both Belém and my hometown of Altamira is deeply disheartening and worrisome. There’s a significant influx of people arriving in the region with hopes of making quick riches through destructive ventures like mining, land grabbing, and logging.

Although their initial intention is to amass wealth and depart, many end up staying. The region lacks adequate infrastructure to support the most vulnerable populations, leaving us ingrained in this cycle of degradation.

Landfills in Belém

Created in 2015, the Marituba landfill receives approximately 500,000 tons of waste per year from Belém and surrounding municipalities. Originally schedule for closure in 2019 due to reaching its maximum capacity, an extension has been granted, allowing its operations to continue until February 2025.

Aurá is another landfill which commenced operations in 1990. Despite its deactivation, it continues to receive thousands of tons of waste from industrial and urban areas within the city of Belém.

Despite the unpleasant odour emanating from the landfill, numerous families who live nearby earn their livelihoods by collecting discarded waste and various items, such as plastic bottles and scrap metal. Some children in the vicinity frequently search for discarded food to supplement their daily meals.

“There is no selective waste collection system established, no designated area for a new landfill installation, and a lack of public education on city cleanliness. We are currently facing a challenging situation,” explained Costa.

Belém has not complied with Brazil’s National Solid Waste Policy (PNRS) and Federal Law 12.305/2010, which mandates the closure of all landfills in the country by August 2, 2014.

Social, health, and environmental impact

The streets of Belém are scattered with rubble and uncollected waste, therefore creating conditions to the spread of diseases, posing significant risks to public health and potentially overwhelming healthcare services.

In Brazil, Belém is the capital city with the highest percentage of households experiencing uncollected garbage, impacting around 35,739 individuals according to IBGE data. Residents often resort to disposing of their waste through methods such as burning, littering in public spaces, vacant lots, or even burying it.

Findings from the survey conducted by the Federal University of Pará (UFPA) indicate that the concentration of hydrogen sulphide gas emitted by the Marituba landfill is 30 times higher in its vicinity. Exposure to this substance can result in symptoms such as coughing, shortness of breath, burning eyes and skin, fatigue, weight loss, insomnia, and overall inflammation.

According to the UFPA’s research, inhaling foul odours emanating from the Marituba landfill has been linked to respiratory and other illnesses among the population. The study also revealed residents’ discontent with the pollution of waterways, the depreciation of their properties, and deteriorating air quality attributed to the Marituba landfill.

The UFPA report further indicated that the existence of the Marituba landfill is a result of mismanagement of public resources and serves as a cautionary example to be avoided.

Homelessness and food insecurity in Belém ahead of COP30

Another troubling problem impacting the streets of Belém is homelessness. According to data from the Papa João XXIII Foundation (Funpapa), it is estimated that between 2,500 to 3,000 individuals live on the streets of the city. Across the entire state of Pará, this figure reaches approximately 22,000.

Furthermore, data from a survey carried out by Vigisan, an application focused on monitoring food and nutritional safety in Brazil, indicates that around 53.4% of the population in the state of Pará experience moderate to severe levels of food insecurity.

Challenges such as crime, drug-related concerns and sanitation issues persistently affect some of Belém’s most iconic tourist spots, including the Ver-o-Peso market complex. Both visitors and local workers report these ongoing challenges, indicating a longstanding neglect of the site and an urgent demand for renovation.

The public transportation system in Belém is also in chaos, posing another substantial obstacle. Residents are highly critical of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system expansion, which has been underway since 2012. BRT operates on a medium-capacity public transport model with vehicles traveling along dedicated lanes, including designated stations for rapid passenger boarding.

However, the system fails to meet the demands of the population and remains incomplete.

Environmental and Indigenous rights concerns

The host of COP30 ought to demonstrate global leadership in addressing environmental concerns, yet it appears that both the state of Pará and Brazil have significant progress to achieve in reaching these objectives.

Costa shared his insights on the debate concerning environmental preservation in the region:

Currently, we observe a contradiction between advocating for the preservation of the “standing forest” to the international community, portraying ourselves as protectors of the forest, while there is a backdrop of violence against those genuinely working to safeguard it. Economic groups and even criminal entities exert influence, violently seizing public lands.

On 5 February, Revista Cenarium released an article exposing unsettling details regarding illicit mining operations occurring in the state of Pará. Drawing from data provided by government agencies, environmental organisations, and a civil case conducted by the Federal Public Ministry (MPF), it was revealed that over 2,000 miners have been active across 100 gold extraction sites, spread across 41 clandestine landing strips within the Paru State Forest (Flota do Paru).

Flota do Paru covers an area of approximately 3.6 million hectares. Created in 2006, this conservation reserve is under the jurisdiction of the Para government and administered by the Institute of Forestry Development and Biodiversity of the state of Para (IDEFLOR-Bio).

IDEFLOR-Bio issued a license to the mining company Mineração Carará Ltda, permitting their operations within the Flota do Paru conservation area. This decision has sparked concerns regarding their genuine dedication to environmental preservation, thereby setting a negative precedent for Brazil and the global community.

Deforestation and human rights

According to a Greenpeace study, in 2023 mining activities caused destruction to 1,410 hectares within the indigenous territories (TIs) of the Kayapo (Pará), Munduruki (Pará), and Yanomami communities, the equivalent of opening four football fields each day.

Illegal mining isn’t the only concern impacting the state of Pará. According to a report by Mighty Earth, Pará stands as the second-largest state in the Amazon region for deforestation and degradation alerts in farms with a soy cultivation history, accounting for 23% of Brazil’s total soy area in 2023.

The extraction of palm oil intended for biofuel production in Pará presents yet another significant issue. A Global Witness investigation uncovered allegations against Agropalma and Brasil Biofuels (BBF), two prominent Brazilian palm oil companies, for their alleged involvement in conflicts with local communities in Pará.

Palm plantations in the state of Pará occupy an area once covered by rainforest, totalling approximately 226,834 hectares, nearly equivalent to the size of Luxembourg.

Investments in Belém for COP30

The residents of Belém are looking forward to COP30, anticipating that it will bring about investments and improvements to address the various social, health, and environmental issues they encounter in the region.

Costa discussed his viewpoint regarding the allocation of investments, project completion, and increased involvement of civil society in the region:

There is a traditional economic elite prepared to benefit from an event of this magnitude, COP30. At the same time, we see the rise of highly committed leaders who can make a difference at this moment, including groups from the periphery, young people, and traditional communities.

Furthermore, we’ve begun to receive numerous resources, but it’s imperative to understand how they will be utilised to avoid a situation like the “cemeteries” left in the aftermath of the World Cup, where unfinished projects left a detrimental legacy.

Recently, the city of Belém signed a contract valued at around $140m with Ciclus Amazônia, a solid waste management firm, to tackle the challenging waste situation in the city. This agreement covers waste collection, treatment, and recycling efforts. Ciclus Amazônia secured the contract through a competitive bidding process to establish a 30-year Public-Private Partnership (PPP).

Since mid-2023, in anticipation of COP30, the federal government has announced several investment initiatives for Belém. A portion of these funds, approximately $1bn, will be provided by the National Bank for Economic and Social Development (BNDES).

Will Belém be ready for COP30?

Despite significant investment announcements for the region, there remains a level of scepticism regarding the planned projects, their capacity to adhere to deadlines, and ultimately, their completion. This includes initiatives such as the restructuring of major canals crossing the city, and the expansion of the BRT system.

There are doubts regarding whether there will be sufficient time to successfully complete and deliver all scheduled projects before COP30 begins, given that most of these projects have yet to be initiated.

Costa offered his last reflections on the implications of COP30 for Belém and the region:

What will be the lasting impact of COP30 on the city of Belém and its surrounding region, particularly for the most vulnerable communities? These are the communities in greatest need of meaningful change and improvements that will enhance their quality of life and benefit the environment.

We aim not to repeat the experience of “Rio 92”, but rather to establish a positive legacy for both the region and the world, something we can genuinely take pride in.

Featured image via Wikimedia

Below are some of the statements issued by the spokesperson representing the cabinet office of Helder Barbalho, the governor of Pará, to the Canary:
“The government of Pará is carrying out several macro-drainages works to prevent floods and flooding, both in the COP polygon and in peripheral areas. Between completed and ongoing works, we have around 10 neighbourhoods and one million people benefiting. The projects include canals and roads in the capital with asphalt paving, rainwater drainage, sewage, landscaping, sports courts, squares, playgrounds, and an outdoor gym. Regarding the disposal of waste, this is a matter for the city of Belém, which the state government has been monitoring.”
“The Institute for Forestry and Biodiversity Development (Ideflor-Bio) informs that the company has authorization from the National Mining Agency (ANM) to carry out the activity. The legislation and the Paru State Forest Management Plan (Flota) allow experimental gold mining activities. Therefore, there is no legal impediment for the company Mineração Carará Ltda to request the necessary environmental license for the project, since the legislation allows mineral developments in Conservation Units (UCs) for Sustainable Use, as in the case of Flota Paru. However, there is no environmental license for experimental gold mining granted in Flota do Paru.”
“Regarding illegal mining and landing strips, the government of Pará informs that it works in an integrated manner with the public ministry, civil, military, federal and army police, to dismantle illegal mining in state UCs. In 2023, Semas (State Secretariat for Environment and Sustainability) teams closed 42 illegal mining sites in Pará.”
“It is the commitment of the federal and state governments that the capital of Pará hosts the conference and has adequate infrastructure and logistics to host the largest climate discussion event in the world.”

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