We love road blocks; flushing toilets and murder rates: random facts about Latin America

The Economist has a big report on Latin America this week, to coincide with the 200th anniversary of the start of its struggle for Latin America GDPindependence (unfinished business, some would say). Here are some of the more striking statistical nuggets and other bits and pieces.

The region has 15% of the world’s oil reserves, a large stock of its minerals, a quarter of its arable land (much of it unused) and 30% of its fresh water.

Marketing people are beginning to talk about a “Latin American decade”. But there are at least three big worries. First, since 1960 it has seen the lowest growth in productivity of any region in the world, not least because around half of all economic activity takes place in the informal sector. Second, despite some recent improvement, its income distribution is still the most unequal anywhere. This has acted as a drag on growth and caused political conflict. Third, it suffers from widespread crime and violence, much of it perpetrated by organised drug gangs.

Today the average Mexican woman has two children, compared with seven in the 1960s. In 1960 four-fifths of Mexican homes had at most two rooms and no toilet; now 60% have three rooms or more and have a flushing lavatory.

Chile Solidario, a programme aimed at eradicating extreme poverty, shows signs of becoming the flagship for a new generation of social protection policies, going beyond Brazil’s iconic Bolsa Familia scheme. It puts the destitute in touch with social workers to make sure they benefit from programmes including job training, education and housing as well as income support. Colombia has set up a similar scheme. In Peru a programme in the poorest parts of the southern Andes has reduced child malnutrition. These programmes are more complicated and costly than conditional cash transfers (CCTs) but they can be more effective, especially in cities. Ricardo Paes de Barros, who advises Marina da Silva, the Green Party candidate in October’s presidential election, wants to see such a scheme in Brazil. He says it could deploy an existing network of community health agents. With Bolsa Família “for the first time we managed to identify a group of the poor who weren’t visible before. Now we can make sure the poor receive social assistance in a joined-up way,” he says.

Latin America murder rates[In Colombia] Between 2002 and 2008 the murder rate halved and killings of human-rights activists and trade-union leaders abated. Brazil has come up with some answers. In the decade to 2008 the murder rate in São Paulo state fell by 70%. Economic growth helped, but so did better police management. The police gave priority to catching murderers, with the clear-up rate for killings rising from 20% in 2001 to 65% in 2005

15 big cities generate more than half of Latin America’s GDP

In a recent poll 22% of respondents outside Lima approved of blocking roads as a form of protest.

That’s enough random stats for the moment (but feel free to add your own). Meanwhile I’m in Addis Ababa at a UN ‘expert group’ (ha!) meeting on eradicating poverty (although just getting our UN credentials seemed an almost insuperable challenge – ending world poverty might take a little longer….). My traditional conference whinge will come in due course, followed by what will hopefully be a more interesting account of the ensuing field trip (literally – the fields are being used to grow roses and coffee) to talk to farmers organizations and the like.

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Comments

One Response to “We love road blocks; flushing toilets and murder rates: random facts about Latin America”
  1. Jonathan Glennie

    Hi Duncan, I certainly agree that a lot of answers to development questions are emerging from Latin America, especially the South, at the moment. Just on Colombia, I couldn’t let this lie. I have just got back from being Christian Aid’s Country Manager in Colombia and in my assessment one of the main reasons for a reduction in killings of human rights activists (including trade unionists) is that the paramilitaries and their state supporters (military etc) have more or less secured what they wanted, including a quite good deal with the government re prison. Impunity continues. You just have to look at Mexico to realise that when you take the fight to the drugs lords conflict and murder rises dramatically. If you do the opposite, as in Colombia, appeasing the mighty paramilitaries and allowing them to rise to positions of economic and political power, both locally and nationally, violence abates. Combine this with what a colleague of mine describes as “accumulated terrorism” – so much violence has already been done against human rights defenders that simply the threat is now sufficient to shut people up, rather than an act of violence proper. So a slightly more bleak analysis I am afraid, without wanting to detract from some improvements in some areas. All the best, Jonathan

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