Information and news on Brazil

Belo Monte Dam
This past April, a Brazilian federal court suspended construction of the Belo Monte Dam in the northern state of Pará. The suspension arose from concerns regarding the protection of the environment and the natural resources of the Amazon. Sanitation works in the city of Altamira must be completed before construction can resume.

Community and Forest Effects 

The dam, which was scheduled to be completed in 2019, would be one of the world’s largest hydropower plants. As of April 2017, 10 turbines are already running, with plans to build 24 in total. The budget for the entire project is 30 billion Reais, or $9.6 billion.

The construction of the Belo Monte dam is a complicated issue. Droughts in southern Brazil led to energy shortages, increasing pressure on the Brazilian government to push forward construction of the dam.

Additionally, the desire to reduce Carbon emissions is a top priority for Brazil. Yet the deforestation and destruction of local communities due to dam construction are also pressing concerns.

The Belo Monte dam complex partially blocks the Xingu River, one of the major Amazon tributaries. The blockage forced the construction of a new channel, which has inadvertently flooded thousands of acres of rain forest. It is reported that many low-lying islands have been submerged and deforestation is occurring as a result.

Hydroelectric Dam Disruption

The construction of the dam disrupted the natural flow of rivers through the rain forest. It also forced many of the local inhabitants, primarily river dwellers and fisherman, to abandon their current lifestyle and relocate to urban areas. The forced relocation and loss of current lifestyles and employments exacerbates the risk of falling into extreme poverty in an already poverty-stricken area.

There is a loss of water supply and fishing stocks in several regions of construction as well as the lack of social support and economic compensation provided for local communities, many of which have indigenous populations. This is a major catalyst for lawsuits filed by the national Indian protection agency (Funai) and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Hydroelectric dams, while currently favored not only in Brazil but throughout South America, are just one of several solutions for cleaner energy. Energy options powered by the sun or wind are also potential choices that could provide clean energy and reduce carbon emissions without contributing to deforestation.

As plans for the Belo Monte dam are reworked to better address certain environmental concerns, alternative forms of energy should also be considered as a way to reduce damage caused by hydroelectric dams.

Nicole Toomey
Photo: Flickr

Human Rights in BrazilAs the most recent host of the summer Olympic Games, Brazil is strikingly diametric to the glamor and leisure of them. With a focus on human rights in Brazil, the country has many problems that it cannot hide despite hosting the Olympics.

A few notable human rights violations in Brazil in 2016 include police abuses and extrajudicial killings — notably more often in disenfranchised areas (favelas) and during peaceful protests — violent and overcrowded prisons and the targeting of human rights defenders.

During the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff, many peaceful protests occurred across the country for education reform and against the presence of the Olympics. Police responses to protests of this sort were frequently violent and generally led to an excessive use of force. For example, to protest the current education reform, students across the country peacefully occupied more than 1,000 public schools. Police used excessive force to remove students from the schools, shooting stun grenades at students. One student lost sight in her left eye because of the grenade’s explosion.

Other police abuses come from both on and off-duty police officers. In 2015, police officers killed 3,345 people, leading to cyclical violence in crime-infested areas. This undermines public security and endangers the police officers as well. In 2015, 393 police officers perished in the backlash.

Of all the violations of human rights in Brazil, overcrowded prisons are the most significant. Between 2004 and 2014, the number of imprisoned adults increased an alarming 85 percent. About 622,000 people total are incarcerated in prisons designed to hold 67 percent less than that or a total of 205,000 people. The increase of inmates in Brazil is attributed to a 2006 drug law that allowed drug users to be charged as drug traffickers. Luckily, in 2014, judges began to see detainees promptly after their arrest (required by international law), and this mitigates the rate of inmates entering prison.

Speaking out against violations of human rights in Brazil is a dangerous but necessary duty. There was a general increase from 2015 to 2016 of attacks, threats and killings of human rights defenders. Ranging from lawyers to laborers, 47 human rights defenders of all sorts have been killed.

Human rights violations do not define Brazil as a nation; there are many human rights virtues. For example, the country passed a “Digital Bill of Rights” protecting privacy and free expression rights online. A co-led initiative in the United Nations to create a new U.N. special rapporteur on the right to privacy accompanied the bill. Keeping the last few years in mind, there is hope for the bettering of human rights in Brazil.

James Hardison

Photo: Flickr

ADRA Helps Brazil
In May 2017, a flood in northeastern Brazil left 35,000 residents homeless. As similar disasters have affected Brazilians before, the Adventist Relief and Development Agency (ADRA) is a nonprofit organization working to alleviate what has been a crucially difficult past for the country. How the ADRA helps Brazil is not through focusing on the negative impacts but instead on how they can aid Brazilians in times of disaster.

In January 2011, some of the heaviest rains in history caused major flooding and landslides in Brazil’s three major cities and in 80 smaller communities as well. The ADRA provided 4,500 victims with bed materials and hygiene kits, inviting others to donate. More than 1,000 households received aid as a result. The ADRA also received a $50,000 grant from the U.S. Embassy to support Brazilian families in urgent need.

In November 2015, a toxic mudslide containing arsenic, mercury and other poisons made Brazil’s water undrinkable for more than 250,000 residents. The ADRA distributed 53,000 gallons of water to 1,900 families in the city Governador Valadares, and 16,000 gallons of water were given to 570 families in the city Colatina. The ADRA also managed to help more than a quarter of a million people in Minas Gerais.

In March 2016, heavy rains flooded several Brazil cities. After the rains, the water was draining too slowly and increasing the risk of diseases. The ADRA distributed hygiene materials to counter risks of diseases. Disaster victims were also given food and material items and lived in school buildings after losing their homes.

The ADRA partners with other organizations to help Brazil’s street children and disadvantaged ethnic communities. In August 2016, the ADRA worked on a project with Stop Hunger Now to stimulate Brazil’s economy. The project involved sending 100,000 packaged meals to Rio de Janeiro.The ADRA also utilized some of the meals to support 5,000 students.

The ADRA helps Brazil in order to better the lives of the country’s people. By providing Brazil’s disaster victims with meals, hygiene kits and other resources, ADRA gives Brazilians the hope that they will never be alone in times of crisis. Through partnerships with other organizations, the ADRA may even receive further help in the future to alleviate Brazil’s problems.

Rhondjé Singh Tanwar

Photo: Flickr

Using Fish Skin to Heal Burn VictimsIn Brazil, there are only three skin banks to serve a population of 208 million people. The health care system is so strained that the collagen and tissue stored at these skin banks can only meet one percent of the demand of burn victims in Brazil. Due to the high cost of skin grafts, most burn cases instead receive a sulfadiazine burn cream containing silver to prevent infection. The treated area is wrapped in burn gauze with no healing or restorative property to the tissue. When researchers at José Frota wanted to address this issue, they had a novel idea: using fish skin to heal burn victims.

The researchers began experimenting with Tilapia, which is one of Brazil’s cheapest and most abundant species of fish. The results were shocking, not only did the treatment cost 75 percent less than the cream and gauze method, but it also resulted in far less pain for patients. Some patients even reported being able to stop taking pain medications due to the fish skin treatment. This is in part because the Tilapia skin is richer in types 1 & 3 collagen than human tissue; these collagens are critical to healing burns in damaged tissue.

The collagen in Tilapia skin also stays moist longer than burn creams, resulting in fewer applications than with gauze. This lowers pain when administering the bandage as well as decreases medical costs while healing the wound. On many second-degree burns, the fish skin can remain on the skin throughout the entire scarring process. In Brazil, Tilapia skin was previously considered garbage, but doctors’ ability to use fish skin to heal burn victims has changed those opinions.

One reason for such an incredible discovery is that Brazilian medical researchers face different problems than their American counterparts. This leads to innovative solutions to problems of cost and access to health care that uniquely faces their society. Consequently, their ingenuity results in developing solutions that benefit the global medical community. In the same manner that World War II produced the advancement and mass production of penicillin, the inequitable and resource deficient health care system in Brazil produced this innovative approach.

Although not directly involved with this project, USAID is incredibly important to creating relationships with researchers, physicians and universities that facilitate these discoveries. Doctors have shown promising results from their early experimentation, but they need a private company to begin producing and selling the fish skin to hospitals for it to gain momentum in the medical community. USAID could invest in the project to produce these skins that would reduce its health care expenditures across the globe. Using fish skin to heal burn victims is just the beginning of low-cost high tech solutions with incalculable benefits that our foreign assistance and investment can produce.

Jared Gilbert

Photo: Flickr

Brazil's Poverty Rate
In a mere decade, Brazil’s extreme poverty rate has dropped dramatically. In fact, among the BRIC nations, Brazil has the second lowest percentage of its population living under the poverty line. Former president Lula’s unprecedented Bolsa Família Program (BF) is modestly responsible for this success.  In 2003, Brazil’s poverty rate stood at 9.7 percent; in 2013, that percentage was down to 4.3.

The concept of the Bolsa Família program is straightforward and trusting. The BF gives low-income families small cash transfers and in return, the families attend preventative health care visits and keep their children in school.  Bolsa Família has both short and long term goals. In the short term, BF has exceeded expectations.

Not only has BF help halve the poverty rate, but it has also improved income equality by 15 percent. Historically, Brazil has struggled with social and economic equality. As recent as the 1980s and 1990s, the nation’s poorest 60 percent of the population had only four percent of the total wealth.

The BF’s long term goals are grounded in sustainability, for it provides a more promising future for the youth generation. Through education and health, the BF works to give children opportunities to prosper later in life.  This work breaks the cycle of poverty that many in Brazil face.

The likelihood of a 15-year-old girl being in school has already increased by 21 percent, and infant mortality rates have significantly dropped. Long term monitoring is required to see the actual long term benefits of the program, but thus far the evidence is encouraging.

Aside from the economic advantages of the program, Bolsa Família has also restored integrity and hope to Brazil’s poor. Most of the beneficiaries of BF are women, and the female empowerment leads to a more educated, efficient and modern society.

The first of its kind of such a large scale, BF is an example for the rest of the world. By 2013, 120 different delegations had visited Brazil to find out more about the program, and similar cash transfer programs have already popped up in 40 countries.

BF may be a simple concept, but its innovation and success are far reaching. By providing 50 million people, or ¼ of the population, with small, monthly cash transfers, Bolsa Família has slashed Brazil’s poverty rate and given poor children better futures.

However, Bolsa Familia is only one part of the government’s four-pronged solution for fighting poverty in Brazil. Other strategies include setting the minimum wage, providing support for rural families, and creating a more formalized employment system.

Catherine Fredette

Photo: Flickr

Common Diseases in Brazil
An epidemic of yellow fever has recently emerged in rural areas of Brazil, with over 3,192 suspected cases reported, 758 cases confirmed and 426 deaths from the disease. The fatality rate for confirmed cases has risen to 35 percent as of May 18. Although it is not normally among the common diseases in Brazil, yellow fever poses a growing threat to Brazilian public health.

Yellow fever is an acute viral hemorrhagic disease that includes symptoms such as black vomit and bleeding from the naval cavities. The Aedes aegypti species of mosquito currently transmits the disease, mainly in rural areas of the country.

However, Brazil could face an even greater problem if the mosquito species that live in densely populated cities, such as Rio de Janeiro, contracts the disease and begins to spread it. Already Brazil has had to request 3.5 million doses of the yellow fever vaccine from the International Coordinating Group on Vaccine Provision. Only six million doses currently exist in the emergency stockpile for the vaccine; for perspective, Rio de Janeiro had an estimated 12 million residents in and around the city in 2016.

While country officials deal with the yellow fever endemic, there are several other diseases which continue to affect its citizens, especially those living in poverty. Other common diseases in Brazil include:

Ischemic Heart Disease
Ischemic heart disease ranks the highest among common diseases in Brazil. In 2015, it was the leading cause of death in Brazil at 18.8 percent, and it has frequently been the leading cause of death globally. Ischemic heart disease is especially prevalent among low- and middle-income countries, as living in poverty often correlates with some of the most common behavioral risk factors. These factors include an unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, tobacco use and harmful use of alcohol. Due to the success of Brazil’s universal public health system, however, the mortality rates for cardiovascular diseases decreased by 24 percent between 2000 and 2011.

Diabetes was the fifth leading cause of death in Brazil in 2015, which was a rise from its previous position at seventh in 2005. Approximately 12 million Brazilians suffered from diabetes in 2015. Diabetes is a chronic disease in which the body struggles to produce or respond to the insulin hormone. One way that the Brazilian Ministry of Health attempts to combat the increasing prevalence of diabetes is by offering free drugs to all people with diabetes and related conditions. They also support education and awareness activities.

Diarrheal Disease
Diarrheal disease is both preventable and treatable, and yet globally it is the second leading cause of premature death in children under five. In Brazil, it was the seventh leading cause of death in 2013. The greatest risk factors for deaths related to diarrheal disease are child and maternal malnutrition. As malnutrition generally plagues impoverished populations the most, the poor in Brazil are the most likely to suffer from the diarrheal disease. Fortunately, a rotavirus vaccination for infants has resulted in a decline in under-five-year-old diarrhea-related mortality and a decrease in hospital admissions in Brazil after the vaccine’s introduction in 2006.

With the threat of yellow fever and the constant presence of other common diseases in Brazil, the Brazilian government faces a great deal of work to improve and ensure the health of its citizens, especially those living in high-risk areas due to poverty. For now, the universal public health system strives to make current advances in preventing these common diseases accessible to all people.

Lauren McBride

Photo: Pixabay

Cost of Living in Brazil
The cost of living in any country is a direct result of inflation and the economy. As of June 2017, $1 USD is equivalent to 3.31 Brazilian real. The cost of living in Brazil does not seem to be high for everyday products such as fruit, bread and eggs when compared to prices in the United States. The costs tend to differ more when it comes to mortgage rates, and gasoline and other imports.

Brazilian cities were more expensive in 2011 than cities such as Los Angeles, New York City, Berlin, Miami, Abu Dhabi and Luxembourg. The inflation rate was 6.5 percent, while the rate in the U.S. was 3 percent. The real should have become cheaper, not more expensive. This caused the cost of living in Brazil to rise.

By 2016, the economic situation had not changed much. Brazil, which had been the fifth-largest world economy when it won the Olympics, dropped to the ninth-largest economy after a significant decline in its gross domestic project. It went into its worst recession since the 1930s.

High taxes, poor infrastructure and low labor productivity have contributed to what is known as “Custo Brasil” (“Brazil cost” in English)­­– which refers to the increased costs associated with doing business in Brazil. It is likely that these costs directly impact the cost of living in Brazil.

The 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro was expected to add to the economy while bringing Brazil out of the recession. With an influx of tourist’s spending money, the demand and supply for products should have increased.

More than 400,000 tourists came in for the Olympics and spent about 425 real per day; those 760,000 Brazilians who attended spent an average of 310 real per day. In total, the Olympics generated over $100 million USD in tourism revenue alone, based on the exchange rate as of August 2016.

Although the total amount of revenue generated remains unknown, companies spent more for the 2016 Rio Olympics than they did in Beijing in 2008 and in London in 2012. Between the revenue from tourism and sponsors, Brazil’s official inflation rate ended 2016 at its lowest level since 2013.

The central bank expects the cost of living to decelerate, with significant decreases having already occurred in the past few months. Brazil is expected to end 2017 with inflation below its target for the first time since 2009.

Stefanie Podosek

Photo: Flickr

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation recently announced the names of some Grand Challenges Explorations Round 18 grant winners. Researchers from all over the world received $100,000 to develop ideas that can change the world. Out of four categories, one such idea is the Design New Solutions to Data Integration for Malaria Elimination. Among the recipients for this category is Dr. Helder Nakaya and his malaria GPS mapping idea.

Dr. Nakaya holds a Ph.D. in molecular biology and is an expert in systems vaccinology. His lab uses computational systems biology to study the root of infectious diseases. Additionally, he works as both an assistant professor at the University of São Paulo’s School of Pharmaceutical Science and as an adjunct professor at the Emory University School of Medicine’s Department of Pathology.

His idea is to extract the location history file on mobile phones to determine the geographic location of infection along with if the area is a breeding site for malaria. While it’s standard for doctors to ask patients to retrace their steps, the mosquito bite could’ve occurred at any point between 10-15 days prior to the symptoms appearing.

This information can easily slip the mind of anyone, especially for someone enduring the effects of malaria. However, the perfect recall of mobile devices proves extremely useful in fixing this human issue.

Security is a concern, but those fears are easily allayed. The file necessary for this project only tracks the phone’s physical location. Photos, texts, call logs, contacts and all other sensitive information is stored separately and will not be examined. Dr. Nakaya and his team assure patients that submitting the file is up to them and anonymous.

If the malaria GPS mapping project goes well, Dr. Nakaya and his team of scientists could receive up to $1 million dollars in additional funding. Other researchers hope to broaden the program to detect breeding grounds for other infectious diseases and viruses (such as Zika, chikungunya and dengue).

Another possible scenario is that Dr. Nakaya develops an app that updates in real time. It could help citizens navigate around hotspots and let city halls know where to disperse public agents to deal with the breeding grounds. In other words, this idea could (again) revolutionize the healthcare industry.

Jada Haynes

Photo: Flickr

Brazil approved a new sugarcane genetically engineered to resist the most devastating plague in the country. The major sugar exporter is the first to approve commercial use of genetically modified (GM) sugarcane. The developer CTC created the cane with the commonly-used gene Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis). This allows the sugarcane to resist the insect Diatraea saccharides, which causes an annual loss of $1.52 billion to sugar producers.

Since most agriculture-based countries are in the developing world, insect-resistant crops such as Brazil’s new sugarcane can be especially helpful to poor farmers. Brazil will be the first to start utilizing the new sugarcane, but many other genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are already at work throughout developing nations.

While they remain a controversial topic in the U.S., GMOs like Brazil’s new sugarcane help feed the world’s poor.

Scientists, like the developers at CTC, possess the ability to engineer crops that solve manifold problems in developing countries. One example is Bangladesh’s Bt Eggplant, which resists a fruit and shoots borer pest. The eggplant’s genetic resistance decreases pesticide use and required labor while increasing crop yield, crop size and farmer profits.

Bangladeshi farmer Md. Milon Mia reported that pests used to ruin up to 40 percent of his crop yield before using Bt Eggplant. The GM eggplant now helps Bangladesh’s largely rural population, as the country climbs out of its position as one of the poorest in the world.

In a “Letter to the Editor” of The New York Times, a farmer from a village in India details his similar experience with GMOs. Like the farmers in Brazil and Bangladesh, Sudhindra Kulkarni uses a GMO designed to resist pests. With this GM cotton, his yields have increased four times, his crops have been healthier and his farm has been more sustainable.

Before the transgenic crop, bollworm pests were so damaging that he thought he “would barely scrape by.” But now, GM cotton has “transformed” the lives of his family. The impoverished Indian population has been cut in half in the past two decades, and developments such as GM farming are key to this progress.

Two billion people across the globe face food insecurity. 896 million people live on less than $2 a day. But GMOs like Brazil’s new sugarcane can improve this situation through the creation of more resilient crops.


With modern technologies, scientists can engineer crops that require less labor, cost less to produce and yield more product. With continued support for these lifesaving inventions, biologists can continue to develop solutions for the developing world.

Bret Serbin

Photo: Flickr

10 Facts About Rocinha, Brazil

Just outside Rio de Janeiro are some of the largest urban slums in Latin America, filled with people and rich culture that makes up some of the unique parts of the country. One of these many slums is Rocinha, the country’s largest favela. Here are 10 facts about Rocinha, Brazil:

    1. Rocinha is located in Rio de Janeiro’s South Zone on a large hillside overlooking the city.
    2. Rocinha is Rio de Janeiro’s largest “favela” or slum, with around 180,000 people living in the tightly packed city.
    3. Despite its large population, Rocinha takes up less than a square mile of land. This extreme lack of space forces families to build houses on top of one another. This results in house structures up to 11 stories tall.
    4. Rocinha is considered one of Brazil’s better favelas due to its close proximity to jobs and services. Easier access to jobs also means that families are better off and can afford basic necessities such as electricity and water.
    5. Although the slum has economic opportunities, drug-related violence is one of Rocinha’s more well-known characteristics.
    6. Since 2004, Rocinha has been under the control of a criminal group called Amigos dos Amigos, a gang known for violence and drug dealing.
    7. The average education level for a resident of Rocinha is 4.1 years, with less than 1 percent of the population receiving a degree above a high school diploma.
    8. In December of 2010, then-President Lula inaugurated Rua 4, a street development project that revamped a previously decrepit street into a downtown for the favela. With the new street came improved housing, gardens, playgrounds, plazas and locations for potential stores to open and boost the local economy.
    9. In 1998, an NGO called Two Brothers Foundation was founded in the slum in order to teach children and adults how to read and write in English for free. As of 2012, the organization had seven full-time staff members and about 50 volunteers from all over the world who join the program in order to help educate the residents of Rocinha.
    10. In 2012, a group called Green My Favela piloted its first “green space” in Rocinha. The project created a community garden in the urban slum and involved the local community by encouraging residents to come out and help maintain the garden. The garden has helped children get away from street violence and inspired interest in something benefitting the whole community.

These 10 facts about Rocinha, Brazil are a brief look into the favela. While the city has experienced hardships throughout its history, those who see all that the city has to offer to continue to make the city better for the generations that follow.

Olivia Hayes

Photo: Flickr