Despite having the largest Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in Minas Gerais, the Metropolitan Region of Belo Horizonte has a huge pocket of poverty and is the scene of major economic discrepancies. This is shown by the most recent data from the Ministry of Citizenship on poverty in 46 municipalities in the RMBH. In all, 50 cities make up the region. In 2020, there were 283,000 poor and/or extremely poor families.
For the Ministry of Citizenship, people with an income of less than R$ 178 per month are considered poor. And those who live on less than R$89 a month are considered extremely poor or miserable. About 21% of the population of the cities analyzed are in these situations.
The number of citizens would be equivalent to the total number of inhabitants in Betim, Contagem and Nova Lima, large cities in the metropolitan region.
Very rich and very poor, side by side
The data collected draw attention as they show the huge economic inequality in the metropolitan area. The same region that houses an enormity of poor and destitute, has one of the most expensive square meters in the country.
See the Belvedere neighborhood, in the extreme south of the Minas Gerais capital, where millionaires and even billionaires live. This is the case, for example, of Rubens Menin, owner of the MRV construction company and other businesses. In April 2021, he entered the list of the richest people in Brazil, with assets of approximately R$ 11 billion, according to Forbes Magazine.
Meanwhile, opposite Rubens, Alexsandra Braga dos Santos went to live by the road seven months ago. Negra, resident of the city of Moeda, in the RMBH, lives with her youngest son, Júnior, aged 17, three grandchildren and her husband, Ricardo Pacheco, aged 37. Without studies, Alexsandra has worked practically all her life in the informal sector and has always been he lived for rent.
With the pandemic, Alexsandra and her current husband lost their income, and it became impossible to pay the rent. “At that time I used to buy basic food basket on credit to try to pay the rent. But it was no use”, he commented. And to no avail. She and her family were evicted. With nowhere to go, there was no other solution: the roadside.
“I managed to buy some tarpaulins. I set up a little house and lived there. I said: my God, I’ve always been through a lot of difficulties, but living under a tarpaulin by the side of the road and with my family… I never thought I would go through this. At night, I was afraid that they would set fire or someone on the road would do harm to me and the boys,” he recalls.
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She lived there between the end of 2020 and the beginning of this year. “I didn’t know, but we lived on public land, belonging to the (state) government, which expelled us. One day, an employee from the DER (Department of Buildings and Highways) came to me. He told me I had 15 days to leave”. She went into despair.
Today, Alexsandra is being helped by members of the group Um Gesto de Amor, a Civil Society Organization, who are working together to build a house for her. Sandra Regina Coutinho, better known in Currency as Sandra do Salão, was at the head of the movement. The building materials collected by the organization were enough to build the house, which is on land granted by Ricardo’s mother.
To build the home, volunteers are running out of time. “Alexsandra was living during the works with the social rent, which we got for her, given by the city hall. The benefit term was only three months. So, we cannot delay the completion of the works one day”, reported Sandra.
The housing is not finished yet, but it is close. “Wow, today when I see it raised here I say: my God, I don’t believe it”, she says with emotion.
Causes for poverty in the RMBH
The city of Moeda, where Alexsandra lives, is the fifth among 46 analyzed where there are more poor and destitute. There, 44% of the approximately 5,000 residents are in this situation.
Funilândia is the municipality of the RMBH in which there is the most poor and/or extremely poor, which are 61.5% of the city’s inhabitants. In second place is Inhaúma, with 57.8%; in third and fourth, respectively, are Bonfim (51.3%) and Taquaraçu de Minas (48%).
The municipalities with the highest poverty rates are the smallest in terms of population – they have less than 10,000 inhabitants. And they are still the ones that show little diversification in the economic matrix. The article investigated the economic profile of the cities mentioned above in the João Pinheiro Foundation (FJP) database.
In these cities, around 80% of the wealth produced comes from the public and service sector, predominantly services with low added value, such as butcher shops, snack bars and bakeries. Generally speaking, both segments do not require skilled labor. As a result, the population’s income tends to be lower.
With the low diversification of the economy, the public administration has few sources of revenue. Thus, cities are unable to invest in themselves to, for example, expand education and promote other economic segments.
The concentration of industry and qualified services in Belo Horizonte, above all, and in Betim and Contagem, may cause little economic diversification in the aforementioned cities and others in the RMBH.
“The biggest problem in the Metropolitan Region of Belo Horizonte is the concentration of economic activities,” observes Roberto Monte-Mór, professor of economics at the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG) and a specialist in regional and urban economics.
“Nowadays there are already initiatives to deconcentrate, such as the deconcentration of the university system. For example, there is PUC in Contagem, there are Federal Institutes of Education (IFEs) implemented in cities around Belo Horizonte. And there is also a relative banking decentralization”, he analyzes.
The metropolitan region of São Paulo would be an example. “They deconcentrated activities. The cities of the ABC Paulista are economically very strong”, completes the professor.
The Metropolitan Plan of the RMBH, a document that gives guidelines on how the region should be organized, provides for the regulation of the use of urban space to encourage this deconcentration. In other words, the intention is to organize in the best possible way the territorial functions that each piece of the metropolitan region must have.
Something like this is running in Belo Horizonte. The Master Plan, approved in 2019, seeks to direct civil construction to other areas of the city, currently concentrated in the central and southern zones.
Poverty in the RMBH should increase
Everything indicates that the pandemic has increased the number of poor people. Altogether, the five municipalities mentioned had in 2020 about 52% of the inhabitants living in poverty and/or misery. A year earlier, this same rate was 33%, according to data from the João Pinheiro Foundation (IMRS – Consultations in the Database). From one year to the next, in these cities, poverty increased by 19%.
As the pandemic persists, economists warn of the growth of poverty in the country and this situation should hit already poor localities more vigorously, which is the case in a good part of the RMBH.
Source: BoF Minas Gerais
Edition: Elis Almeida