Poverty and Hunger in Brazil at Risk of Rising Once Again

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BRASILIA — For the first decade of the twenty-first century, Brazil became a global model for its efforts to domestically reduce poverty through government programs and policy. In 2002, around 12.3 percent of Brazilians (22 million people), were living below the poverty threshold of $1.90 per day set by the World Bank. At that time, the Brazilian GDP was at around $507 billion, averaging a GDP per capita of $2,805. In the following decade, between 2002 and 2014, poverty and hunger in Brazil saw a massive decline.  Due to this fact, the country’s most vulnerable population saw a radical transformation in their lives.

A study released in 2014 by a governmental survey agency revealed that the reduction in extreme poverty since 2004 was around 65 percent. According to the World Bank standards, by 2013, only 4.8 percent of the population was living below its poverty threshold. GDP had climbed to $2.4 trillion and GDP per capita to around $12,000.

One of the most important areas of progress in that decade was in the alleviation of hunger. According to a study by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, Brazil reduced the number of undernourished people by 82.1 percent between 2002 and 2014, the largest registered drop amongst the six most populous nations in the world, and well above the Latin American average of 43.1 percent.

In the same period, the global average for the reduction in hunger was 14.5 percent. Countries like India and Pakistan saw a steep increase of 4.9 percent and 20 percent respectively.

These achievements in poverty and hunger in Brazil were partially due to an unprecedented period of economic prosperity in the Latin American nation. However, they also came from a focused effort on behalf of the government and several international organizations with which it partnered to tackle the huge issues facing the most vulnerable in the nation.

The Fome Zero (Zero Hunger) project, initiated during the Lula presidency, began several different ventures to eradicate hunger and extreme poverty. These included direct financial aid to the poorest families.  The important Bolsa Familia program, the support of subsistence farming, construction of water reservoirs in arid areas of the country and distribution of vitamins and supplements, coupled with an education program to teach the population healthy eating habits helped reduce the effects of poverty in Brazil.

However, these monumental achievements are now at serious risk. Since 2014, Brazil has entered one of its worst political crises and has suffered from a prolongated economic one. The impeachment of Dilma Rousseff in 2016 and the proliferation of corruption scandals have created an atmosphere of political instability. These developments, along with several other factors, have plunged the nation into an ever-deepening economic calamity.

The crisis could lead to millions of people being pushed back into poverty and hunger in Brazil. The World Bank predicts that 3.6 million people will fall below the poverty line by the end of 2017. In the same report, the World Bank urges the government to expand the already existing social programs. The World Bank says the Bolsa Familia should get specifically supported to prevent the proliferation of the so-called “new poor.”

However, with a government under severe economic constraints, the budget for these programs is at serious risk. Pressure from international organizations and governments to support Brazil during this crisis and make sure that those most vulnerable to suffer from it are taken care of is essential. Progress is not always permanent. This fact is something that the international community must always keep in mind.

Alan Garcia-Ramos

Photo: Flickr

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