From Tue Aug 1 10:22:00 2000
Date: Mon, 31 Jul 2000 21:57:18 -0500 (CDT)
From: IGC News Desk <>
Subject: DEVELOPMENT-BRAZIL: Cardoso Declares War on Poverty
Article: 101570
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Cardoso Declares War on Poverty

By Mario Osava, IPS, 29 July 2000

RIO DE JANEIRO, Jul 28 (IPS)—Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso announced Friday a programme to fight poverty, which targets 2,091 municipalities and entails spending on education, health and the elimination of the worst forms of child labour.

The aim is to reduce inequality and social exclusion, which can no longer be tolerated, said Cardoso, who added that Brazil is not a poor country, but an unjust one—one of his stock phrases.

The new initiative is to benefit 53 million people, or one-third of the population.

The ceremony for the launch of the National Programme for Integrated Socioeconomic Development held Friday in Brasilia was attended by the governors of 14 states in northern and northeastern Brazil, the country's poorest states, which rank below the national average on the Human Development Index (HDI).

The HDI is used by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to measure the real development of countries, not merely the economic aspect, by taking into account per capita income, school enrollment and life expectancy.

Brazil is a middle-ranking developing country in terms of the HDI, and is listed below many poorer Latin American countries.

Cardoso said that was due to the unequal distribution of income, and added that social spending had been poorly applied up to now.

Studies by the government, universities and multilateral financial institutions report that social spending in Brazil has aggravated inequality, rather than combatting it.

In education, for example, the central government earmarks a greater share of funding for universities to which few people from lower socioeconomic strata have access.

According to the new programme (known as HDI-14) presented Friday, the government will allot 11.5 billion reals (6.4 billion dollars) to go towards social development projects in the 14 poorest states up to late 2002.

The plans for the education sector involve ensuring basic education (eight years) to all children and secondary education to all students interested in continuing their schooling, teaching 1.05 million 15 to 29-year-olds to read and write, and bringing water and electricity to 16,508 schools.

Cardoso said the effort would be a long-term one, and that the goal was to reduce illiteracy in the country to two percent by 2010, from the current 12.3 percent among those 10 and over.

Another objective is to send back to school 627,000 children involved today in dangerous or insalubrious forms of child labour in the 14 states in question. The beneficiary families will receive stipends if their children stay in school, to compensate for the income the youngsters presently bring in.

So far, 1.8 million stipends have been granted to keep the children of poor families in school throughout the country.

The stipend system is not welfare-based because it requires that the children regularly attend school in order for their families to earn the money, thus ensuring a better future for the up-and-coming generations, Cardoso pointed out.

However, many city governments have complained of delays in transfers of central government funds to finance the programme, especially since last year, when the effects of the global financial turmoil led to a tightening of the central budget.

In the area of health, the programme is aimed at providing better care to 2.35 million pregnant women and newborns up to 2002. The secretary of state of Social Assistance, Wanda Engel, said the aim was to substantially pull down infant and child mortality rates.

Another undertaking will be the extension to the 2,091 northern and northeastern municipalities of the Family Health programme, which has posted good results by mobilising teams of doctors and other health professionals to provide medical care in home visits.

Basic sanitation, the construction of 400,000 housing units for the poorest of the poor, the generation of jobs, solar energy for rural communities, and the distribution of food aid are other aspects of the comprehensive new initiative, which the government has been planning since early this year.

The package of measures will have a similar effect in the social area as the Plan Real—the economic stabilisation plan that put an end to chronic high inflation in Brazil in 1994—had on the economy, said Engel.

The programme is also designed to boost Cardoso's popularity, which has been waning since just after his re-election in late 1998, when the country plunged into recession as a result of the Asian and Russian meltdowns, triggering capital flight from Brazil.

The Brazilian economy is showing signs of recovery today, with new jobs created and unemployment falling. But over 50 percent of the population still disapproves of Cardoso and his cabinet, according to opinion polls.

A month ago, the government launched a National Programme of Public Security, aimed at reducing urban violence, one of the main concerns of Brazilians. But the announced measures did not have immediate effects, and were received with scepticism.

Cardoso's popularity will begin to climb again when the results of the social policies announced Friday are seen, said a high- ranking government official, Pedro Parente.