Brazil: rich or poor

Is Brazil Rich or Poor?

The Brazilian economy is the world’s seventh largest. It is a member of the second tier or economically prosperous countries (after the so-called ‘West’ including G7 countries of the United States, Canada and Japan alongside Britain, France, Germany and Italy). This second group is made up of the BRIC group of countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China). So why is it a country that CAFOD is working in?

Brazil has the seventh largest economy – in terms of gross domestic product (GDP), just below Britain in the world league table. It has one of the world’s fastest growing major economies, with its economic reforms giving the country new international recognition and influence. Brazil ranks 23rd in worldwide value of exports and major export products include aircraft, electrical equipment, automobiles, ethanol, textiles, footwear, iron ore, steel, coffee, orange juice, soybeans and corned beef. It has also been the world’s largest producer of coffee for the last 150 years. So why does CAFOD work with partners in Brazil?

Maristely and her friends bring a sparkle to Christmas in Morumbizinho favela, on the edge of Sao Paulo

Maristely and her friends bring a sparkle to Christmas in Morumbizinho favela, on the edge of Sao Paulo

Brazil suffers from high levels of inequality. Almost a third of Brazil’s citizens are poor as Brazil’s wealth is very unevenly distributed with the richest 10% of Brazilians receiving 42.7% of the nation’s income, while the poorest 34% receive less than 1.2%. Even if we divide the gross domestic product evenly among the population, Brazil falls to 79th on the world’s league table (Britain falls to 21st place).

Industry is highly concentrated in metropolitan São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Campinas, Porto Alegre, and Belo Horizonte. Brazil currently has around 5% average unemployment, or about 10 million people without work. Roughly 10 per cent of Brazil’s population, or about 20 million people, live on less than US$ 2 a day (by comparison in Argentina, the figure is below 2 per cent).


How do the poor live in Brazil?

Poverty in Brazil is widespread in rural areas, but it is most visually represented by the various favelas or slums in the country’s metropolitan areas.

City and favelaPoverty is also prevalent in the remote rural regions and more than half of all poor Brazilians living in the rural areas in the Northeast of the country. Household heads are often illiterate and work in agriculture. About half are smallholders or sharecroppers and the rest are employees or temporary workers. Families living in poorer rural areas are often large, with nearly twice as many children as the better-off and access to utilities is rare.

Poverty disproportionately affects the young with Brazil having twice as many child labourers than any other country in Latin America. In the North and Northeast regions, about a quarter of children under the age of five suffer from chronic malnutrition.

Even before the first favela came into being, poor citizens were pushed away from the city and forced to live in the far suburbs. But most modern favelas appeared in the 1970s due to a huge rural exodus when many people left rural areas of Brazil and moved to cities. Unable to find work or a place to live, many people ended up in a favela.

Over the years communities have formed and an array of social and religious organizations and associations have been created campaigning for such services as running water and electricity. Some of the residents have managed to gain right to remain on the land and so can improve their homes.

CAFOD supports the Movement for the Defence of Favela Residents (MDF) and APOIO, the Association for Mutual Support, providing legal and organisational support to homeless people and families living in favelas and tenement blocks.

Because of crowding, unsanitary conditions, poor nutrition and pollution, disease is rampant in the poorer favelas and infant mortality rates are high. Many favelas a run by drug and gang lords and lawlessness is rife.

favela tower and cartThose living in favelas are very vulnerable and official government figures calculate that to make way for the FIFA World Cup this year, over 35,650 Brazilian citizens were evicted from their homes across 10 host cities. However, social movements argue that these numbers are much higher; approximately 250,000 people were affected or threatened by forced removals.

The Brazilian federal government has implemented and expanded in recent years major subsidy programs, such as Bolsa Família and Fome Zero, for families deemed to be most in need of assistance but many millions of Brazilians continue to live in poverty with inadequate housing, fresh water, sanitation and healthcare.

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