25.8 million people live in poverty in Brazil, 8 million in extreme poverty, despite poverty levels falling during a period of economic growth. Now the poorest and most excluded are likely to be hardest hit by Brazil’s worst economic and political crisis in decades.
Highly unequal distribution of land, natural resources and income are root causes of poverty, violence and environmental degradation in Brazil.
As people have found it harder to live off the land, they have migrated to urban centres in search of new opportunities. Urban poverty is characterised by over-crowded shantytowns, insecurity of tenure, low wages and poor public services and sanitation, as well as high levels of violence and discrimination, particularly affecting women, young people and afro-descendants.
The livelihoods and homes of rural and indigenous communities are vulnerable to the expansion of large-scale agribusiness, mining and timber interests, as well as mega construction projects, and this has led to violence against communities who defend their rights to land.
In 2015, 50 environmental activists were murdered in Brazil, the highest number in the world; 47 in the Brazilian Amazon region, according to our partner the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT).
Many indigenous people oppose exploitation and commercialisation of natural resources, due to a deep-rooted spiritual connection with nature, and many act as guardians of the lungs of our planet – the Amazon rainforest. For this, they are often perceived as a barrier to economic progress. Indigenous people are among the most threatened in the country; they are murdered, criminalised, threatened, evicted from their land, and their rights to health, education and to maintain their different cultural identities are systematically violated.
In 2014, Brazil hosted the World Cup and in 2016 it hosts the Olympics and Paralympics. The level of public expenditure on football stadiums (roughly USD 3.6bn) for the World Cup was criticised whilst many people lack adequate public services. The Olympics have coincided with a political and economic crisis in Brazil, as well as corruption scandals. Cuts to public spending on social programmes and proposals for tax and pension reforms are adversely affecting existing social rights and social protection for the poorest.
Making the voice of poor and marginalised people in Brazil heard by policy makers is key to addressing causes of poverty and exclusion.
CAFOD in Brazil
CAFOD works with Brazilian partner organisations to help some of the poorest and most vulnerable groups. Together we are:
- Supporting indigenous people to improve their living conditions, defend their rights to land, health, education, and protect their cultural identities.
- Helping homeless families in São Paulo and landless families in the north and north-east of Brazil to have a secure place to live and to guarantee their livelihoods.
- Lobbying greater access to basic social welfare for vulnerable people.
We indigenous communities are saying look at the sky - it's changing/ The sun is changing. The rain is changing. The men in the cities, we want them to listen and believe us, to look to the future and the past, to see what is happening and to see the pollution, destruction, poverty, illness.
My message is this: think from the heart and the head. Change your thinking. Think of the earth. It is life. The forest is life. Water is life."
Davi Kopenawa Yanomami