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Rio's Alemão favelas – beset by violence, social woes – a major concern for Olympics

Forget the beaches, the Christ the Redeemer statue and facilities built for the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro that cost millions of dollars. 

On a hillside a few miles away from Ipanema and Copacabana, a jumble of brick houses is likelier to make a  more lasting impression on any tourist. It's called Complexo do Alemão, or "The German Complex," a group of favelas in the north zone of the city center whose 60,000 inhabitants are still waiting to feel the changes in quality of life that were promised by in 2009, when the city was chosen to host the summer games.

Instead, the images emerging from the Alemão these days are of children cowering from a shooting inside the cable car that crosses the area, that has the city's worst Human Development Index, a United Nations metric that takes into account education, life expectancy and income. Just one month before the Olympic opening ceremony, Alemão has recorded shootings nearly every day going back a week , most recently a 16-year-old teen.

Violence is not the only problem to plague the one-square-mile area – shockingly large numbers of people there don't have access to garbage collection or sewer services, discharge from toilets often flows directly onto the streets – but it is one of the greatest worries among people in Rio in advance of the Olympic Games. 

And while the city will be reinforced by more than 15,000 Army soldiers to guarantee that the games will take place peacefully, residents of Alemão will probably not be the focus of the effort.

The country's massive project to end violence in Rio de Janeiro favelas, known as UPP (Pacifying Police Units) took on Alemão in 2010 with security forces storming the area to battle drug gangs ahead of the 2014 World Cup. They remain in the area, an occupying force, even today.

The presence of the police did not produce the peace intended, due to the complexity of the trafficking in the region and the size of the favela, and it brought an outcry from the people who questioned the tactics employed by the force, often accused them of excessive violence against inhabitants.

Data seems to confirm the criticism: In 2015, for every policeman killed on duty in Rio, security forces killed 24.8 people – more than double the rate in South Africa and three times more than in the U.S. 

With the economic crisis in the Rio de Janeiro state, which led to the cutting of $600 million in the security budget, the situation has been worsening. 

According to Silvia Ramos, coordinator of the Security Studies and Citizenship Center at Cândido Mendes University (Cesec), police violence is one of the main reasons that violence in Rio's favelas has reached abysmal numbers.

"The slum began to be carved up by armed groups in the 1980s and '90s, first by groups involved in illegal gambling, then those dealing with cocaine," Ramos explained. "In those areas, all the state presence, through the police, involves arresting people. We've created a tradition in which the police are allowed to do whatever they feel like in those places, which doesn't happen in other part of the city. To end violence, you don't need more shooting."

The country’s Public Security Institute released information showing that 40 people were killed by on-duty Rio officers in May alone, compared to 17 last year, according to CNN.

Security specialists point out that the lack of basic government services in places like Alemão contribute immensely to  the violence. The lack of opportunities lead many young people to drug trafficking, as a study conducted by Felicia Shrike, a professor at Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), shows.

The residents of the area have index of access to education and sanitation that's well below the municipal average. The rate of illiteracy for people over 15 years is almost the triple that of the city as a whole. More than 60 percent of the Complexo do Alemão's population has an average income of the minimum wage – about $280 a month – or lower, and about 6.5 percent has no income of any kind.

Shrike tells the story in her report of one Alemão resident, a mother of six who couldn't provide for her kids, and three of them ended up involved in the trafficking trade. "Sometimes I wonder if I failed them," the mother told Shrike. "I think that, where we came from, for them, is the only way to get respect."

The consequences can be tallied not just in the number of victms of violence, but also in mental health of people living in the area who aren't involved in criminal activity,Natalia Fazzioni Helou, a sociologist conducting a study on health in the area, told Fox News Latino. According to her, the sort of violence that plagues Alemão also contributes to depression and panic disorders.

"The armed conflict resulting from trafficking presence in Complexo do Alemão became everyday life for the inhabitants of this favela in the mid-90s. This type of violence significantly affects the dynamics of the residents living there, and, since 2012, with the presence of the Pacifying Police Units, tensions increased for the population," Fazzioni wrote.

The problem was identified by Doctors Without Borders (MSF, in its French acronym) workers in Alemão even earlier, in 2007. According to Milena Osório – a psychologist responsible for the MSF program – panic disorders, anxiety and depression were already very common there.

"Bereavements are very poorly dealt with because people could not speak about it, unload the burden of someone's death, the grief for having lost a child, of not having a better future," Osório reported.

It doesn't help that the health conditions in Alemão are in some ways worsening, with large bottlenecks in the provision of services, increasing the sense of abandonment by authorities and the impossibility of a better future. 

Diseases linked to poor sanitation such as scabies and diarrhea are still more common there than elsewhere in the city, and more than 8 percent of the population doesn't have its garbage collected, compared to less than one percent of Rio's population as a whole.

Cátia Souza, a resident of one of the Alemão slums, Nova Brasilia, told FNL, "It 's hard for people to feel better with themselves, with their future and prospects, when their sewage is flowing under their windows."