In the Federative Republic of Brazil, updates on Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 1, “No Poverty,” reveal contrasting trends in local poverty headcount compared to other nations’ general developments. While Brazil faces challenges in tackling poverty, its experience shows significant progress toward achieving SDGs, making it a valuable case study to understand the complex nature of the issue. Here are some interesting facts about Brazil’s progress on SDG 1.
World leaders adopted the Universal SDGs in 2015, with a primary focus on alleviating poverty for all by 2023. SDG 1 aims to eradicate extreme poverty, while other SDGs aim to promote sustainable economic, social and environmental growth.
The Peculiar Case of Brazil
Since 1998, global extreme poverty has generally declined, but the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted progress, leading to a global poverty increase from 8.3% to 9.2% in 2020. However, Brazil’s situation diverged from this trend. The UN’s annual report on SDG progress revealed that Brazil experienced a rise in poverty levels since the adoption of SDGs in 2015. The estimated percentage of the Brazilian population living below the poverty threshold, which is less than USD 2.15 a day, reached 6.28% in 2018. However, following years of an increase in extreme poverty from the 2014 figure of 4.02%, during the pandemic, Brazil recorded a significant decline in poverty. The proportion of Brazilians living below the poverty threshold dropped from 6.18% in 2019 to only 2.41% in 2020 and indicators for SDG 1 in Brazil continued to show a slight but continued decrease up to 2023.
Explaining the Numbers
The year 2014 marked the beginning of Brazil’s longest and most severe recession. The indicator for SDG 1 in Brazil, measuring the poverty headcount ratio at $2.15/day, reached its all-time low of the decade at 4.02. Political turmoil resulting from domestic macroeconomic mismanagement and corruption scandals exacerbated the crisis. In an effort to reduce the state budget deficit, the government implemented cuts in public expenditure on education and health care, which, in turn, led to a contracting GDP and real incomes, and a significant rise in unemployment and inflation rates. Although exact figures are uncertain, estimates suggest that extreme poverty increased from 5.2 million to 11.9 million between 2014 and 2017.
However, Brazil’s recovery in the subsequent years involved significant multifaceted reforms, including enhanced fiscal discipline, tax reform, improved labor rights and renewed spending on social assistance programs. A notable social initiative during this time was Bolsa Família, the world’s largest program providing cash payments to low-income individuals and families. Bolsa Família aims to reduce poverty, hunger and inequality, serving both as a layer of social security for the most vulnerable as well as a tool of wealth redistribution. The program annually benefits more than 46 million people directly, monitoring the health condition of nearly 10 million and the education of 15 million individuals. Estimates suggest that extreme poverty rates would have been one-third higher without Bolsa Família and it is credited with reducing the Gini coefficient by 15%.
The COVID-19 Pandemic
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Brazil faced the second-highest death toll, as concluded by the IMF. However, the country responded with a swift vaccination campaign and resilience in the face of accompanying economic shocks. Alongside a more robust social and macroeconomic framework established after 2016, Brazil boasts one of the strongest health care systems in Latin America, allowing it to maintain an improving figure on SDG 1 indicators despite the existing challenges. Additionally, the government’s pandemic policies focused on improving conditions for vulnerable segments through the expansion of Bolsa Família and the introduction of emergency aid for self-employed and unemployed workers.
What Brazil’s Experience Says About Poverty
Since 2018, Brazil has been incorporating SDGs into its sectoral action plans, including initiatives targeting education and health care, as well as efforts to enhance economic management. In 2023, the concerned U.N. authorities awarded Brazil an overall score of 73 out of 100 on the SDG index.
Brazil’s experience underscores the complex nature of poverty, shaped by a blend of economic, social and political factors. Consequently, the adoption of SDGs to address different aspects of a nation’s development and their promotion as a comprehensive set of measures appears to be vital in confronting the interrelated factors contributing to the endurance of poverty.
– Nadia Asaad