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Women, environment and quality of life in Brazil: current technical-scientific stage

Women, environment and quality of life in Brazil: current technical-scientific stage

Poverty, inequality and social exclusion, not to mention the circumstances arising from foreign debt, drug trafficking and geopolitical restrictions are the issues of the moment in Brazil and in the world.

Serious problems of water supply for human consumption and for agriculture exist. Particularly, the salinization of water, mainly in Northeast Brazil, is a matter of grave concern, for consumption and production of food. The destruction of flora and fauna is alarming. Besides the environmental issue, Brazil's major challenge is to resume the path of economic and social development, along with a strengthening of the democratic structures. It is "necessary to stabilise the economy and to incorporate it in the chains of the world technological exchange, to implement more strict patterns of consumption, and to improve the distribution of income". (CIMA, 1991, p3)

Any development alternative which intends to provide a more permanent solution will have to ascribe high priority both to environmental and socially sustainable factors.

Until the end of the 19th century, high birth and death rates characterised the Brazilian population, when a significant population growth was registered with the arrival of immigrants. Great discoveries in curative and preventive medicine decreased the number of deaths and along with immigration favoured the quick increase of the population.

The birth rate began to decrease in the early 20th century, and most significantly from the 40s, when the flow of immigrants decreased markedly. The fertility rate decreased from 5.8 per woman in the 60s to 3.2 in the 80s, causing on overall drop in the population growth rate.

As from the early 80s, Brazil "misses the step" in the rhythm of growth that had hitherto been its hallmark. The 1980-91 period showed a lower population growth rate since the official surveys of population data began in the country (Rossini, 1992). The annual population growth at the turn of the century is estimated to be 1.6%. If this tendency continues, an annual growth of 0.6% for the 2000-2075 period is estimated by FIBGE. This shows that the environmental problem in Brazil is more related to spatial use than to population growth.

In the past 60 years, three main migratory movements related to the expansion of the agricultural border have been registered: in the direction of Paraná State; to Central Brazil; and, more recently, to the Amazon region.

During the past decades both rural and urban migration toward the cities has had an important impact. In 1940 Brazil had 51 cities with more than 20 thousand inhabitants, in 1990 this number rose to 500, and today 75% of the Brazilian population lives in cities —about 30% of those cities are concentrated in 10 national metropolitan regions São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte, Porto Alegre, Recife, Salvador, Fortaleza, Curitiba, Belém and the Federal District).

Over the last 20 years, clear signs of industrial deconcentration have been noted, caused by an increase in industrial facilities located further and further away from the metropolitan area of São Paulo, still the most important of the country. In fact, this trend represents an expansion of the sphere of influence exerted by the dominant complex and cannot be considered a mere deconcentration, but, rather, a "concentrated deconcentration, which enlarges the national power of the São Paulo metropolis.

Although certain branches of industry have shown a tendency to migrate from the metropolis over the last two decades, concurrently with a relative decrease of the demographic growth, caused by the relative decrease in the migratory flow, São Paulo has not lost its hegemonic position as core area of the country. Its importance resides in the concentration of financial capital and in its control of technology, science and computerware, i.e., information.

Considering the high population concentration of Brazil, the equation population/environment depends mainly on the changes in the use of resources. In the scenario of industrial/urban concentration, social and environmental questions will become more relevant in the cities.

The problems that affect directly the rural population and indirectly the urban population are the following: deforestation and its negative impact on available water sources; occupation of water source areas, which cause pollution and also compromise the continuity of the water supply; gold field mining problems and the use of mercury, with serious consequences to people and to fauna, and, finally, the reappearance of endemic diseases which were practically under control, such as malaria, dengue, cholera.

"A huge conceptual and structural change is necessary —something like a change of paradigm. And the groups interested in development, environment and policy research that work in co-operation with development agencies, have much to contribute for a new vision which balances the values of natural environment with social and economic developing aims." (Campbell, 1992, pp 207).

The current Brazilian Constitution has definitely incorporated the notion of environmental conservation as fundamental to the development process. But the gap between intent and reality is very large indeed. In the face of the needs identified at the different management levels of the environmental policies, the Brazilian government set up the National Environment Project (Projeto Nacional do Meio-Ambiente - PNMA).

The return to a democratic regime, as from the 80s, gave voice to the communities' demands within the framework of environmental issues allowing a greater participation of the population in influencing the political decisions.

The major contributions to the growing awareness of the population with respect to the environmental issue came from non-governmental organisations (NGOs), from the media and from political and cultural movements. The development will be sustainable if waste is eliminated and poverty overcome.

"The environmental situation in most Brazilian cities is dramatic, if not tragic. The most diverse kinds of ecological imbalance, the social misery, the degradation of the man-made environment and the waste of natural and human resources proliferate in these cities, directly affecting the quality of life of millions of Brazilians. Even the wealthy social segments that apparently benefit from the present situation live in permanent fear, due to urban tension, social violence, anxiety, and discomfort". (CIMA, 1991, pp 31)

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