17 Jul 2013
The Millennium Development Goals, which flowed out of the September 2000 Millennium Declaration at the United Nations, commit the countries of the world to “eradicate extreme poverty and hunger.”1 The target on poverty, to be reached by 2015, is to halve the percentage of the population living in extreme poverty. The target on hunger, also for 2015, is to halve the proportion of the population living in hunger.
In 2003, Brazilians elected Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva as president, and he promised to exceed the MDG targets in Brazil by reducing extreme poverty by three-quarters and by eliminating hunger by 2015.
The Brazilian government invested heavily in a number of social welfare programmes, notably the Bolsa Família (which provides payments to families meeting certain conditions, in particular school attendance by children) and various food distribution programmes. Predictably, some opposition politicians attacked the implementation of some of these measures as inefficient or as a form of vote-buying. However, it was very difficult for any political party to suggest that eradicating hunger and extreme poverty was a bad idea.
Seven years later, in its official report to the United Nations2, Brazil claimed to have reduced the percentage of its population living in extreme poverty from 14 percent in 2001 to 4.8 percent in 2008. The percentage of children under five suffering from low body weight (a classic symptom of undernutrition) had fallen from 4.2 percent in 1996 to 1.8 percent in 2006. In 2008, 16.8 million Brazilians received food from the largest food distribution programme, the PAA.
In fairness, a number of social indicators were already improving under previous governments, in part thanks to rapid economic growth. But there can be little doubt that the high-profile hunger and poverty reduction targets helped shift public debate towards a strong consensus that further, vigorous action was needed.
The Brazilian presidency has been under the control of the same political party since 2003. However, even if a different party came to power, it would find it politically very difficult to abandon these high-profile poverty and hunger targets.