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Making the Grade

Making 
the Grade

Brazil’s Human Development Index (HDI) more than doubled in the last
40 years. The country went from the lowest tier of development to the highest one.
By Rodolfo Espinoza

Amid bad news of growing unemployment, serious deficiencies in the health and education
sectors, unmanageable crime and a likely devaluation of the real, Brazilians found plenty
of reason to celebrate the last UN report on the Human Development Index (HDI). Does
Brazil really have any cause for cheering? In a list of the 174 nations belonging to the
United Nations, Brazil came in 62nd place, behind countries like Uruguay (38th), Mexico
(49th) and Colombia (53rd) and just slightly ahead of Libya (64th).

Despite the apparent low position however, Brazilians were commemorating the fact that
their HDI more than doubled in the last 40 years and that the country went during this
period from the lowest tier of development to the highest one. Based on income, but also
education and life expectancy, the UN index gives marks from 0 to 1. Canada, the nation
with the highest HDI gets a 0.960 followed by France, Norway and United States. Brazil got
0.809. The data are from 1995.

A score below 0.5 indicates a low Human Development Index. Scores between 0.5 and 0.8
show a medium degree of development while those nations with a higher than 0.8 score enjoy
a high HDI. In 1960, Brazil with a score of 0.394, was among the countries with the worst
HDIs. Ten years later it had improved to 0.507, what gave the nation one of the last spots
on the intermediary group. By 1980 Brazil got a 0.673 score and by 1991, 0.787. With the
latest result, a 0,809 score, the country enters though humbly the club of the nations
with the highest Human Development Index.

While in 1970 90% of all municipalities were classified as having low human development
(there was none in the higher category and 10% were in the middle), today this number was
dramatically reduced to 40%. The UN study also reveals that Brazilians residing in small
cities have the best living conditions. Nine from the 13 best-classified cities have less
than 50,000 residents.

The current Brazilian progress has more to do with a growth in per-capita income than
strides in education or life expectancy, two other items considered when evaluating the
HDI. The disparity between the richest tier and the poorest, however, continues to be one
of the worst in the world. The 20% on the top of the pyramid earn 32 times as much as the
poorest 20%. The world average is that the richest earn seven times more than the poorest.
This imbalance has been increasing dangerously. While in 1960 the poorest half of the
nation had to share 18% of the nation’s wealth, this number had been reduced to 11.6% in
1995. During the same period the wealthiest 10% increased what they took home from 54% to
63% of the total.

Commented Walter Franco, a UN representative in Brazil: "Capitalism’s globalizing
model is an income concentrator and exclusionary. Brazil, which historically has a very
bad income distribution, worsened its situation due to globalization and foreign trade.
The report shows that in the same country coexist areas with Canada’s index—the
highest ranking—and Serra Leoa’s, the lowest.

The Best

Florianópolis, capital of the southern state of Santa Catarina, is one of the cities
whose development can be compared to Canada’s. It was chosen as the capital city with the
best living conditions. The island-city has banned all industries from its territory and
increasingly promotes tourism as source of income.

The report confirms what everybody knew: Brazilians from the South are in a much better
shape then their brothers from the North and life is better in the East (closer to the
sea) than in the West. Among the 50 best cities in Brazil not even one is outside the
South and Southeast regions. The first one making the list is Brasília, Brazil’s capital,
which appears in 51st place. For the first time, the UN study presented also a detailed
report by regions and states, analyzing the GDI of the more than 5,000 Brazilian
municipalities and comparing them to data from 30 years ago.

Feliz, which means happy—a 15,000-resident town 54 miles from Porto Alegre, the
capital of Rio Grande do Sul state—came in first with a GDI score of 0.834. São
José da Tapera, in the northeastern state of Alagoas, was considered the worst and got
0.265. In São José da Tapera, with a population of 27,000, infant mortality is 147.94
per 1000, life expectancy is 53.38, and 70.5% of the residents are illiterate. Less than
40% of the population has access to tap water and sewer. In contrast, illiteracy is 2.4%
in Feliz, which has a life expectancy of 72.59 years and infant mortality of 5.9 per 1,000
residents. More than 73% of the residents are served by water and sewer here.

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