Lots of people talk about conserving the Amazon rainforest, which harbours one-third of the world’s tropical forests and the planet’s largest hydrographic basin. The forests of the region retain vast amounts of carbon and play a strategic role in the regulation of regional and global climate. Many fewer people mention the 24 million people – the ultimate guardians of this important ecosystem – who live in the Brazilian Amazon.
A recent study found that 98.5 per cent of municipalities in the region perform worse in areas like access to education, clean water and information than Brazil as a whole. That is an alarming finding, but it also presents a great opportunity for philanthropists and foundations. The major recommendation of the study is that Brazil and the wider world take this new social and environmental data – rather than just economic growth or forest data – into account when making decisions about social investment in the region. If the people living across this vast region were given access to things like better education, sanitation and personal rights, the study concludes, they would be more empowered and better equipped to manage this important global resource.
The index, called Índice de Progresso Social na Amazonia – or IPS Amazônia – measures social and environmental performance at both the state and the municipal level. It measures social performance directly because economic development alone does not lead to social progress outcomes. Findings of the new study include:
Education On measures of access to basic knowledge, the region scores 10 per cent lower than the Brazil as a whole. Illiteracy in the Amazon is twice as high as in Brazil as a whole, while only one third as many people are enrolled in tertiary education.
Water and sanitation For water and sanitation, Amazonia scores over 50 per cent lower than Brazil as a whole. 20 million Brazilians in the Amazon are worse off than Brazilians as a whole for access to clean water. There is a critical situation related to clean water and basic sanitation in Amazonian houses: 99 per cent of municipalities don’t have decent sanitation facilities compared to the national average.
Gender On overall measures of opportunity, measuring the capacity of individuals to reach their full potential, 99 per cent of Amazonian municipalities are below Brazil as a whole. This is in part because of the situation for women, which is significantly poorer in this region than across the rest of Brazil. Maternal mortality is nearly three times higher than the country average; more young women become pregnant; twice as many women have to take care of their families alone; and Amazonian women don’t have the same access to education as Brazilian women have elsewhere.
The new index is based on the global Social Progress Index, a holistic framework consisting of three broad dimensions (Basic Human Needs, Foundations of Wellbeing and Opportunity), which drills down into 12 distinct components. For example, Nutrition and Basic Medical Care; Water and Sanitation; Shelter; and Personal Safety are the components of Basic Human Needs. Each component consists of several indicators. Some of the 43 indicators used in the Amazon index are globally relevant, such as maternal mortality rates, access to piped water, and secondary school enrolment, but others are used because they are particularly relevant to the Amazon, such as deforestation rates, the incidence of malaria, and violence against indigenous people.
The IPS Amazônia website has an interactive tool with comprehensive scorecards for each municipality in addition to detailed, interactive maps, which together reveal both specific needs in different communities and success stories that shed light on what works in one municipality that might be leveraged to advance social progress in others.
The report was conceived and supported by #Progresso Social Brasil, an emerging network of partners that convenes different sectors of society in Brazil around the shared objective of improving social progress, under the leadership of Fundación Avina and Deloitte Brazil. The project was led by the Amazon Institute of People and the Environment (Imazon) with technical support from the Social Progress Imperative.
Elaine Smith is a Young Global Leader from the World Economic Forum; she helps organizations in their development process, focusing on innovative approaches to social issues.