Case study: Brazil

The world's most biodiverse country faces a climate catastrophe and deepening inequalities between its communities

23rd October 2020

COVID-19 testing in the Morro da Mangueira favela, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. © Bruna Prado/Getty Images

Case study: Brazil

The world's most biodiverse country faces a climate catastrophe and deepening inequalities between its communities

By Lauren Muir, Administrative Assistant, United Nations Association – UK (UNA-UK)

To illustrate the argument made by Enyseh Teimory in her article Interconnected goals, we asked members of UNA-UK staff to explore case studies in the connectivity between various of the SDGs. Here Lauren Muir explores the interlinkages between health (SDG 3), biodiversity (SDG 15) and inequality (SDG 10).

COVID-19 has struck the world at a time of widening inequalities, an accelerating climate crisis, and when the international community is worryingly short of achieving global development targets. The pandemic has exacerbated the very challenges that the SDGs seek to resolve. Healthcare and political systems are at breaking point and the focus on a ‘global partnership’ has taken a back seat as countries battle the virus. While this global crisis has impacted the lives of people in all corners of the world, the devastation has been far from equal, with already-fragile communities facing disproportionate catastrophe.

Brazil is the most biodiverse country in the world, hosting more than 17 per cent of the world’s biological diversity and the greatest number of endemic species. Yet, the country is facing a climate catastrophe and persistent and deepening inequalities between its communities.

The year 2020 has produced continuous challenges for Brazil – fires, flash flooding, continuing deforestation, static economic growth, political uncertainty – all compounded by the effects of COVID-19. At the time of writing, Brazil has the third highest global case total, with over 150,000 recorded deaths. Within this context, indigenous communities are disproportionately affected by the virus. This disparity is in part a consequence of their remoteness, there are few doctors and great distances to hospitals. Moreover, limited access to life-saving medical equipment means that even if the virus is identified, rates of survival are low.

Studies have shown that indigenous groups are at greater risk of contracting the disease and have lower survival rates. According to the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil, there have been 30,000 cases and 785 deaths within 110 communities, whose populations total over 900,000. Limited testing means that numbers could be higher.

The pandemic’s full impact on Amazonia will not be clear for some time. Brazil faces losing an entire generation of indigenous leaders to COVID-19 – losing knowledge not only about their communities and cultures, but about the biodiversity and natural landscape with which they are so entwined.

This reality demonstrates the interconnectedness of the SDGs. Poor health, climate change and disrupted biodiversity increase inequality and heighten the vulnerability of remote populations. COVID-19 has highlighted this chain reaction by showing that these communities are the most vulnerable to this effect. By realising the connectedness of these particular SDGs, more can be done to protect indigenous lives and their environments. When one area – health, climate, biodiversity or inequality – is neglected, it has a degrading impact on others, challenging the achievement of the SDGs.