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Leaving no one behind: Will the SDGs make a difference for Brazil's quilombola?

08 July 2014 - Following a year of talks on key issues, including poverty eradication, access to health services and peacebuilding talks, the next set of global poverty goals to follow the current Millennium Development Goals are starting to take shape.

Named the Sustainable Development Goals, they will set an ambitious challenge for the global community to rally around throughout the next 15 years to make a significant difference for both people and planet.

Photo credit: Christian Aid/Tabitha Ross

Credit: Christian Aid/ Tabitha Ross

Since the MDGs were set in 2000, there have been successes in poverty reduction, including increased access to water, universal access to antiretroviral drugs for people living with HIV is now within reach, and between 1990 and 2011 the mortality rate for children under 5 years old dropped 41 percent.  However, increasing inequality, as well as gender inequality and environmental sustainability, have yet to be properly addressed.

SDGs and local communities

Christian Aid and its Rio de Janeiro-based partner organisation Koinonia joined recent SDG talks in New York, where global representatives met to discuss issues such as worldwide inequality. For Konionia, it was important to find out whether the goals will really make a difference for communities they support back home in Brazil, such as the quilombola. The descendants of escaped slaves, the quilombola live in rural and rainforest areas, and struggle to see their rights realized in the context of the extreme — albeit decreasing — economic inequality that plagues Brazilian society as well as historic racism and discrimination.

Koinonia’s recent publication “Violations” suggests that while there has been a huge emphasis within Brazil on giving state benefits to the poor, over 75 percent of quilombola families still live in extreme poverty, 76 percent do not have adequate sanitation facilities and 62 percent lack water plumbing. As the Brazilian representative in New York acknowledged, there must be a specific goal focused on tackling inequality within the SDGs and the availability of information specifically about Afro-descendants, such as the quilombola, to really make a difference.

Our view is that an inequality goal — while contested by a number of member states who remain unconvinced of its value — should remain within the proposed plan. Including an income inequality target, alongside one on taxation and spending as well as other targets aimed at addressing discrimination including racism, exclusion, and respecting cultural diversity, could greatly strengthen the overarching inequality goal.

Increasing opportunities for decent employment and ensuring access to essential services, such as education and health care, could also tackle inequality. Thankfully, water and sanitation has already been mentioned — this is an issue in Brazil, where 80 percent of hospital beds are occupied by people with preventable illnesses such as diarrhea, yellow fever and leptospirosis, which could be avoided with access to good quality water and sanitation facilities.

SDGs and land

The SDGs must also seek to preserve natural water sources used by quilombola communities, such as rivers used for water, cleaning and fishing. A target on sustainable food production, such as climate resilient crops, could improve traditional farming, such as gathering fruit and nuts from the forest, and give people the chance to grow their own crops in a society increasingly dominated by large scale agri-business. Indeed, Brazil has the most unequal distribution of land in the world, with just three percent of the population owning two-thirds of all arable land.

A strong commitment to prior and informed consultation with indigenous peoples and local communities about their land by those in power is already a proposed target under the theme of peaceful and inclusive societies. Addressing land rights in this way could help quilombola communities fight big business and secure rights to collective ownership of land where they live, which is rightfully theirs, and on which they rely for income and food. Guaranteeing their right to remain within their ancestral area is critical for them to live according to their culture.

We believe that the post-2015 sustainable development agenda could make a huge difference to people’s lives, including those — like the quilombola — who up until now have been left behind by their country’s apparent progress and success in meeting the MDGs. With a strong focus on inequality and a rights-based, participatory approach, the SDGs may be able to generate the political will so desperately needed in the face of persistent poverty and environmental pressure. Our leaders must rise to the challenge and must not avoid the difficult targets.

Marilia Schüller is secretary for racial and gender equality for Koinonia Ecumenical Presence and Service, Christian Aid's partner in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. A lay theologian, Schüller is also a ministry of the Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church.

This blog was first featured on Devex


Notes to editors:

1. Christian Aid works in some of the world's poorest communities in around 50 countries at any one time. We act where there is great need, regardless of religion, helping people to live a full life, free from poverty. We provide urgent, practical and effective assistance in tackling the root causes of poverty as well as its effects.

2. Christian Aid’s core belief is that the world can and must be changed so that poverty is ended: this is what we stand for. Everything we do is about ending poverty and injustice: swiftly, effectively, sustainably. Our strategy document Partnership for Change www.christianaid.org.uk/images/partnership-for-change-summary.pdf explains how we set about this task.

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