AT THE CENTER OF ATTENTION WITH RIO OLYMPICS, COUNTRY EXPERIENCES ITS WORST ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL CRISIS
By FABRIZIO Pellicelli *
Photos by Gabriel Nacimento (top) and Antonello Veneri (slideshow)
In these days, when Brazil is at the center of international attention with the Rio Olympics, the country is experiencing the worst economic crisis, and political and institutional reforms of its democratic history. The striking contrast between the grandeur of the opening ceremony and the actual condition of the majority of Brazilians forces basic questions: how is it possible that these two realities continue to coexist? How is it possible that tens of millions of people still live in extreme poverty, with no water, food, education, hospitals, work? Is there a common understanding, either in Brazil or in the rest of the world, as to the reasons for this great disparity and social injustice?
On the opening day of Rio 2016, I happened to be in the Sertão, the semi-arid Brazilian outback, a very poor region north of Rio, which alone represents 9% of the Brazilian territory and is home to 11% of the entire population. I was there to start a development project on behalf of some local communities that AVSI Brazil intends to implement with a large Italian industrial group which has expanded its activities to that region. The project aims to contribute to the improvement of living conditions for hundreds of local families.
The Sertão is the clearest mirror of Brazilian inequality. In this region, unlike the area surrounding Rio which has been polished up for the big event, there are no roads without potholes. The local roads are largely unpaved and red Brazilian earth soils the white of the horses.
There has been no rain in the Sertão since January; a tragedy in a place where the local water depends mainly on rainfall. Though high quality underground water flows in abundance, the State, which has invested billions of Reals to extract of oil in the pre-salt region, is unable to build water wells for its population.
The positive international image of Brazil being broadcast in these day is surely helpful: an emerging country, thanks in part to Olympics. But this growth should generate new wealth to reinvest in development policies. The State has a duty to ensure access to basic services for people, to ensure a basic infrastructure and to attract private investment in a sustainable manner, which is also compatible with its land and culture.
Private businesses are vital players when seeking a better redistribution of wealth. In Brazil, corporate social responsibility models have reached very advanced stages. They are based on the concept of mutual gain for the private sector and for society as a whole, which is seen as a set of stakeholders in a given region.
These models call for the active involvement of the third (non-profit) sector, through partnerships that create wealth for the region, stimulate employment, promote access to new knowledge and technology, and form the basis of thoughtful cultural and environmental development the country.
The associations of the Brazilian non-profit sector can be effective in promoting sustainable development. They guarantee a stable presence in contexts where the State struggles, or is has no interest, to serve. Even in the poorest places in Brazil, there exist non-profit associations that arose in response to the practical needs of the people and the desire of people at all levels of society to be protagonists of their own development.
The faces and stories of the people of the Sertão may appear "unnecessary" in a society where a "culture gap" dominates, but they can teach us to rediscover the value of solidarity and the positivity of life, even in extreme conditions. The Olympics may represent a unique opportunity to reveal this other face of Brazil.
* Fabrizio Pellicelli is CEO of AVSI Brazil. AVSI has been present in Brazil since the
1980's and works in various fields of development, such as urban development, energy efficiency and education. The staff of AVSI, is composed of over 1,000 people and its programs reaches 2.6 million direct beneficiaries worldwide.
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