LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The conservation of Brazil's Amazon is threatened by the poor social conditions of its 24 million inhabitants, the first comprehensive study measuring the situation found on Saturday.
Lack of access to clean water, violence, illiteracy and limited opportunities to pursue a better life are among the problems highlighted in the Social Progress Index (SPI) for the Amazon, one of the world's most important ecosystems.
The study paints a picture of social injustice and inequality by charting data from all but one of the region's 773 municipalities and nine states. Its authors hope it will become a tool for improving development policy as Brazil elects a new president in October.
"From access to clean water and basic education to personal choice and rights, the citizens of this region, on average, experience significantly lower social progress compared to people living in the rest of Brazil," said Beto Verissimo, one of the study's authors and lead researcher at the Amazon Institute of People and the Environment (Imazon), which published the study in partnership with non-profit Social Progress Imperative.
"The findings raise the question of whether we can really expect to protect the biodiversity of the Amazon if the people living there continue to struggle on the very basic measures that define the human experience," Verissimo told Thomson Reuters Foundation in a telephone interview.
The Amazon SPI looks at more than 40 indicators, including maternal mortality, access to piped water, secondary school enrolment, deforestation rates, malaria incidence, child and teenage pregnancies and violence against indigenous people and women.
Nearly all of the Amazon municipalities have a social progress score below the national average, according to the index.
"It is almost like two different countries when you look at the Amazon region and at Brazil as a whole," said Verissimo. "Despite some government efforts to close the gap, progress in the rest of the country has been faster than in the Amazon. It would take 10 to 15 years of social investment to change this."
The study follows the release of the 2014 global SPI, developed by the Social Progress Imperative, which ranked Brazil 46th out of 132 countries. It measures social and environmental performance rather than economic output in a drive to make social progress a priority for politicians and businesses.
Brazil's score of 67.7 compared to more than 88 for the top ranking New Zealand, mostly due to problems with personal safety and lack of access to advanced education.
The country has also faced social unrest as Amazon tribes protest against what they see as the steady undermining of their rights to ancestral lands by farmers. The rainforest is threatened by unsustainable logging, infrastructure development and agricultural expansion.
SOCIAL PROBLEMS ACROSS THE AMAZON
The Amazon scored most poorly in the category "opportunity", which includes personal rights, freedom and choice as well as tolerance, inclusion and access to advanced education. The region scored 48.3, compared to 61.2 for the country as a whole.
Access to advanced education scored 19.1, compared to 33.8 nationwide. The discrepancy was even larger on access to water and sanitation, the second lowest index component with a score of 35.4 versus 74.9 for Brazil as a whole.
Acre, on the border with Peru and Bolivia, had the lowest score of the Amazon's nine states. Only 39 percent of its population of 760,000 has access to clean water, 24 percent is illiterate and the state reports more than twice the average rate of violence against women.
In Amazonas, Brazil's biggest state with a population of almost 4 million, some 15 percent of 10-14-year olds have to work to survive and 15 percent of girls aged15 to 17 years are mothers. Only 37 percent of women complete a basic education.
Even areas that rank above the Amazonian average face formidable social challenges.
The city of Manaus, for example, home to a new football stadium built for the 2014 World Cup, has a rate of 56.5 homicides per 100,000 residents, more than twice the national average and similar to Venezuela, one of the world's most dangerous countries. Violence against women is double the average of the Amazon at 160 cases per 100,000 residents.
The next survey is due in 2016, Verissimo said. "It will be a powerful tool to track progress," he added.
**The study 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. The Climate and Land Use Alliance, Fundación Avina, and Skoll Foundation also supported the study. #Progresso Social Brasil is a member of the global Social Progress Network