June 28, 2004— Homicide rates in Latin America are among the highest of any region in the world. Violence is the principal cause of death in Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, El Salvador and Mexico and among the five main causes of death in the region.
The major victims of such homicides are young men, 69 percent of whom are between the ages of 15 and 19 years old. Not just a cause of suffering, crime and violence are a significant drain on the region's economies and public sector budgets.
Viva Rio, a Brazilian NGO working in Rio de Janeiro is among those looking for innovative ways to prevent urban crime, in partnership with the Bank."Viva Rio sees its work as a 'laboratory' for social innovation," said its founder and director Rubem Cesar Fernandes, at a recent presentation at the Bank.
At the core of the program are peace campaigns and social projects directed specifically at youth. Viva Rio's disarmament campaign helped to push through a new law on the control of small arms and light weapons (SALW), signed by President Lula last December. The law – said to be the toughest in the region – includes provisions for a centralized information system on SALW, mechanisms to track illegal arms, and a referendum on a civilian handgun ban to be held in October 2005. "This law is a tremendous victory for Viva Rio," said Cesar Fernandes. "It will not be easy to implement, but it gives us a clear agenda to follow".
The NGO was created in 1993 in response to the murder of eight street children in front of the Candelaria Church and the killing of another 21 people in the Vigario Geral favela (urban slum) in Rio de Janeiro. It currently manages more than 500 projects in approximately 350 favelas and poor communities in the Rio de Janeiro Metropolitan Area. These include:
- peace and disarmament campaigns,
- educational programs and assistance with access to jobs for school dropouts,
- conflict mediation and free legal aid for people in low-income communities,
- community development, e.g., through micro-credit,
- "child hope centers" where youngsters can practice sports activities,
- Radio Viva Rio and a network of over 170 community radios across Brazil,
- Viva Favela, an on-line magazine on the favelas
- computer centers in low-income neighborhoods (launched with financing from InfoDev, a partnership program housed at the Bank that helps developing countries and their international partners use information and communication broadly and effectively as tools of poverty reduction and sustainable economic growth),
- police training on human rights and conflict mediation,
- community policing in slums.
Says Andrew Morrison, Senior Economist in the World Bank's Poverty and Gender group for Latin America & the Caribbean, "Viva Rio provides clear and compelling evidence that urban violence and crime are preventable. It's an inspirational road-map for all of us working in this area."
The Bank's Urban Group for the region initiated a program on Urban Crime and Violence Prevention last year, supported in part by the Bank-Netherlands Partnership Program. One of its first products is a resource guide available in Portuguese, Spanish and English – on how to design violence and crime reduction programs which go outside the scope of traditional policing responses. A companion manual on Situational Prevention, developed in collaboration with partner organizations in Chile, gives practical advice on how to design safer urban spaces. This manual is available in Spanish and will shortly also be published in English and Portuguese.
"These manuals are part of our work to build capacity on municipal crime and violence prevention in the Latin American & Caribbean region," explained Bernice Van Bronkhorst, a consultant working with the regional Urban team.
The current work builds on research carried out by the Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), such as the 2000 study on "Crimen y violencia en América Latina", which studies the impact of crime and violence in Latin American cities, and the Bank's Urban Peace Program, which carried out research into the causes of violence in poor communities in Colombia and Guatemala. In April 2003, the Bank, the IDB and the Woodrow Wilson Center organized an international conference on Prevention and Response to Urban Crime and Violence in Latin America & the Caribbean. Other partner organizations include the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) and the UN Habitat Program.
Crime and violence components are being integrated into urban upgrading projects, such as the PROMETROPOLE urban upgrading project in Recife (Brazil), the Programa Mananciais (water resources and sanitation project) in Greater Sao Paulo (Brazil), and the National Urban Integrated Development Project in Honduras.