Brazil Brings Scarce Good News to Anti-Poverty Summit

Thalif Deen

HAVANA TIMES, Sep 16 (IPS) — When Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva addresses a meeting of world leaders next week, he is expected to proudly claim that his country has already met – and exceeded – one of the key U.N. development goals: reduce by half the proportion of people living in extreme poverty and hunger.

The deadline was 2015, but Minister for Social Development Marcia Lopes told IPS that Brazil was way ahead of its targets.

She said President Lula has made a lot of progress in helping implement the U.N.’s eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

“We are on the right track,” she said, pointing out that “millions of Brazilians have been lifted out of extreme poverty.”

Brazil attributes much of its success on the government’s cash transfer program called “Bolsa Familia”. Since 2003, the ministry has invested over 103 billion dollars in this social protection program, reaching out to more than 70 million people living in poverty.

Marie Pierre Poririer of the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF says the world’s largest income transfer program in Brazil has resulted in significant progress in education, health, social development and the fight against hunger.

“This single program, which focuses on Brazil’s poorest social groups, has significantly reduced poverty and social inequality in Brazil, and has been recognized nationally and internationally for its success,” says Poririer, who is based in Brazil.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the European Forum last week that the global financial crisis has resulted in “grave setbacks” for MDGs worldwide. This year alone, an additional 64 million people will fall into extreme poverty, he warned.

But Brazil apparently has survived the global financial crisis – at least judging by its economic performance.

Brazilian Finance Minister Guido Mantega was quoted last week as saying the country’s economy will grow by at least 7.0 percent this year, which he described as “the best performance in 24 years, and without inflation.”

Of the world’s biggest economies, only China is doing better, he conceded.

A country with a population of over 195 million, Brazil is also marching towards the achievement of several other MDGs by 2015, including universal primary education, gender equality, reduction in infant mortality, improvement in maternal health, reversing the spread of HIV/AIDS and ensuring environmental sustainability.

The three-day high level meeting in New York beginning Sep. 20, officially billed as the MDG Summit, will take stock of the successes and failures in achieving the eight goals – and more importantly what corrective steps should be taken by countries that are lagging far behind.

Helen Clark, administrator of the U.N. Development Program (UNDP), the lead agency promoting the MDGs, has no hesitation in singling out Brazil’s spectacular progress as a key success story.

“Brazil’s success in achieving the MDGs shows the importance of strong leadership, and of good policy and ability to fund and implement it,” she said.

Clark commended Brazil for sharing its experience “widely” facilitating a concept strongly advocated by UNDP: South-South cooperation.

Last month, Clark signed a partnership agreement with Brazil’s Foreign Minister Celso Amorin to reinforce UNDP’s activities in Brazil – specifically those relating to international development cooperation.

Meanwhile, according to a report released last month by the Brazilian Institute of Applied Economic Research, the number of Brazilians in extreme poverty has declined by 81 percent since 1990.

The ministry of health has estimated that the goal on child mortality reduction will be met by 2012, three years ahead of the deadline.

In its fourth progress report on MDGs released last April, the Brazilian government has provided a detailed list of its achievements so far, and its targeted goals through 2015.

Besides its own significant progress, Brazil also pledges to establish a “global partnership for development” (goal eight).

The pledge includes addressing the special needs of the world’s 49 least developed countries (LDCs), the poorest of the poor.

Since 2005, Brazil has forgiven about 1.25 billion in foreign debt owed by LDCs, while it has promised to grant tariff and quota-free access to LDC exports before the end of 2010.