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Brazzil - Poverty - July 2004

Brazil Is Rich, Brazilians Are Poor

Brazil's per capita income continues to grow. According to the
UN, that index has risen by US$ 40 to US$ 7,700. The problem
is the distribution of income among Brazilians. More than 8
percent of the Brazilian population survives on less than US$1 a
day. Another 22 percent have to make do with a mere US$ 2.

Nasi Brum


Picture A report released by the UN Development Program shows that Brazil's per capita income has risen US$ 40, to US$ 7,770 (it was US$ 7,730 last year). The report goes on to say that Brazil's problem is to transform wealth into well-being for the population.

With regard to the Human Development Index, Brazil is in 72nd place in a list of 177 nations. Last year the country was in 65th place. If only per capita income was considered, Brazil would rise to 63rd place on the list. Brazil's per capita income is the same as the average for the world, and slightly higher than the average for Latin America.

However, when other items are factored in, such as education and life expectancy, Brazil drops in the list. One problem is that 22 percent of Brazil's population lives on less than US$ 2 a day. Another 8.2 percent lives on less than US$1 a day.

In the latest survey, life expectancy in Brazil rose from 67.8 years to 68. There was a significant improvement in education, with 92 percent of school age children in the classroom, and the illiteracy rate went down to 13.6 percent.

At the end, Brazil's not-so-hot life expectancy of 68 proved to be the factor that lowered the country's Human Development Index. Just to get an idea of how bad that is, if the list was only based on life expectancy, Brazil would be in 111th place.

The HDI is based on three factors: education, live expectancy and income. It is a simple method used to measure development. "It works out to the minimum needs of a population," explains José Carlos Libânio, a UN aide. "It measures access to knowledge, health and money."

Commenting on the results, presidential Chief of Staff, José Dirceu, said: "We should look to the future and take this report as another sign that the country needs urgently to invest in social, sanitation, living and transport programs and to create jobs and distribute wealth."

UN Campaign

For the first time, Brazil will participate in a worldwide UN campaign to improve the lives of the planet's most needy by drumming up support for what is known as the Millennium Development Goals, which were set up by 191 countries, including Brazil, in the 2000 UN General Assembly.

The Millennium Development Goals, which are supposed to be achieved by the year 2015, include eliminating extreme poverty and hunger, making elementary education universal, the promotion of sexual equality, women's rights and maternal health, combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, protecting the environment and setting up a worldwide partnership for development.

Brazil's participation begins on August 9, the anniversary of the death of social activist, Betinho.

Brazilian Protest

Two years ago, the then president of the Institute of Applied Economic Research (Ipea), Roberto Martins, complained saying that Brazil's Human Development Index was higher than the UN said it was.

"The UN Development Program, which conducts the index survey, is using outdated numbers on the situation in the country. With updated numbers that the Brazilian government has, the HDI would be 0.769," said Martins. The UNDP says it is 0.757.

UN representative Libânio explained, however, that the HDI is calculated using statistics from international agencies and that there are differences between those numbers and numbers that governments use.

According to him, the data shows that Brazil is producing more riches, but that it is badly distributed. Brazil is third in the world in wealth concentration.

A Youngster Look

Young people who took the writing test in last year's National High School Examination (Enem/2003) believe that social inequality is the main cause of violence in Brazil. Hunger, income maldistribution, and urban ghettoization were identified as factors that aggravate the process of inequality and lead to violence in society.

The results of the study were announced this month by the Ministry of Education's Anísio Teixeira National Institute of Educational Research (Inep/MEC), in charge of administering the writing tests.

Last year's theme was: "Violence in Brazilian society: how to change the rules of this game?" Over 600 teachers corrected the compositions written by 1.2 million students and transcribed the passages they had in common. Lack of schooling and family disorganization were also mentioned by the students as causes of the problem of violence.

For Maria Stella Grossi, a sociologist who teaches in the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Brasília (UnB), the fact that the students identified social inequality as one of the causes of violence demonstrates a degree of maturity in the way they regard the issue. According to her, young people tend to blame violence on the poverty of the population.

"It's a slightly more sophisticated way for young people to view the problem. It means a slightly more complex understanding of the issue, since it ends up condemning the poor population as the source of violence," judges the sociologist, who has been studying society's opinion on violence for over 10 years.

From her standpoint, despite the progress, it is necessary to point out the growing participation of members of the middle and wealthy classes in the statistics on violence, not just as victims, but as perpetrators.

"This is a fact that needs to be stressed, because, otherwise, we can get the impression, which is still somewhat biased, that those who are disadvantaged provoke the violence," the specialist warns.

Another point underlined by Grossi is the fact that young people perceived the lack of schooling as one of the causes of violence. "It is not so much the lack of schooling as the lack of schools, a gap whose consequences, sooner or later, can lead to violent behavior," she explains.

The Enem examination is held every year for the purpose of evaluating the quality of instruction absorbed by students who are finishing secondary school or who have already graduated and desire to test their knowledge.

Nasi Brum works for Agência Brasil (AB), the official press agency of the Brazilian government. Comments are welcome at lia@radiobras.gov.br.
Translated from the Portuguese by Allen Bennett.

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