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UN Worried About Brazil as Poverty Seen Rising in Latin America

A woman sits in front of her home which was built under a bridge in downtown Sao Paulo, Brazil, March 3, 2016.

The U.N. said on Tuesday that it was worried about the impact of recent events in Brazil on the country's ability to continue fighting poverty and its democratic stability, as it forecast that poverty likely rose in Latin America in 2015.

Brazil has been hit by the worst recession in decades and the administration of President Dilma Rousseff is facing the threat of impeachment and a corruption probe, hampering its ability to enact policies to turn the economy around.

The U.N. was deeply concerned about the recent political turmoil, said Alicia Barcena, head of the Santiago-based Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the United Nations' regional arm.

"We are alarmed to see the democratic stability of the country threatened," she said.

It was also concerned that progress Brazil has made in tackling poverty could reverse, said Barcena.

"We are worried. Brazil has been one of the most successful countries on this issue [of tackling poverty], and it carries on being very efficient," she said.

ECLAC director Lais Abramo said government-led programs had been crucial in this, and that it was "very important" to keep them going to prevent a backslide.

"We don't have data for 2015, but we know there is an important economic crisis, with a recession and unemployment rise, and it is very likely that will negatively impact on poverty numbers," she said at a press conference following the publishing of a report on poverty in the region.

Children play in water at a slum in Recife, Brazil, March 2, 2016.
Children play in water at a slum in Recife, Brazil, March 2, 2016.

The total number of people living in poverty in Latin America is predicted to have increased to 175 million, or to 29.2 percent of the region's total population, from 28.2 percent in 2014, ECLAC said in the report.

However, there has been significant variation within the region. Between 2013 and 2014 there was an increase in the number of poor people in Guatemala, Mexico and Venezuela, but a decrease in Brazil, Colombia and Ecuador, it said.

Across Latin America poverty fell significantly in the first decade of this century, from over 40 percent, as Chinese growth helped propel a commodities boom. But since 2012 progress has largely ground to a halt as the commodities boom has ended.