There’s a family living in our rubbish bin… getting used to living in a rich country that’s full of really poor people….

13 February, 2008

We live in really a big apartment building – 18 stories of some of Sao Paulo’s most expensive real estate, so between all of us tenants we must throw out a lot of rubbish, but until last week I didn’t realise it was enough rubbish to support a family, but apparently it is.

Where our rubbish is left out for a collection a mother and her four kids sit during the day – a mum of about 35 and her two boys and two girls – one on crutches. They are only around during the day; I presume they go back to the favelas (slums) in the evenings. The kids don’t appear to go to school, and the dad has a cart which he uses to collect cardboard from around the place, it’s a big cart, but he manoeuvres it through the speeding traffic with real skill – and the SP drivers (who are certainly not the most patient drivers on earth) are very patient when delayed by him or the 100’s of other carts that are pushed, pulled, dragged and squeezed through the city.

They family divides their time between our place and the supermarket just up the road, they sort through all the rubbish, collect the plastic bags, plastic bottles, glass bottles, paper and cardboard – all the usual recycling stuff but they also collect all the food that’s thrown to waste. Some of it they eat on the spot, but most of it is carefully packaged away in plastic bags and carried away – maybe to sell back in their favella I am not sure.

This daily scene of abject poverty and conspicuous wealth is one of the many reminders that Brazil is a country of massive extremes, Brazil is one of the ten largest economies in the world, its economy is larger than Russia, India or Mexico (not to mention Oz and Nz). Unfortunately it’s not been able to translate this into wealth for all its citizens, 20% of the population live below the poverty line – but even this is still a significant reduction from the 33% of only three years ago.

Using the GINI index of wealth distribution- where 100 is worst (ie one person has all the wealth of a entire country and 1 is totally distributed – everyone has an exactly equal share) Brazil is and has for a long time has been one of the countries with the most unequally shared wealth in the world:



According to the latest statistics, it is only beaten by countries like Namibia (70.7), Lesotho (63.2), Botswana (60.5), Colombia (58.6) and South Africa (57.8), but given how much wealth they have, it is still a staggering statistic with Brazil ending up with a score of 57. In contrast the countries with the most equally shared wealth in the world are Denmark (24.7), Japan (24.9) and Sweden (25). Australia gets 35.2, New Zealand 36.2 and the United Kingdom 36.

There are lots of theories on why so many of the South American countries (and especially Brazil) have ended up so skewed in terms of wealth distribution, but there is a definitely a big group of either socialist or historically socialist leaning countries at the most equally shared end of the scale (excluding China who is at the other end), and many countries with famously corrupt and dysfunctional governments at the other end.

If you want some light reading on the GINI scale its all here:

Right back to work…. and yes before we ask, we do throw away our rubbish in a very tidy way, conscious that our neighbours will be going through it within minutes of us throwing it out!