Areas with the lowest 2023 Social Progress Index scores are among the locations that lost the most forest cover in recent years.

Based on an analysis of 47 quality of life indicators in areas such as health, education, security and housing, the 2023 Social Progress Index (SPI) shows that deforestation is related to the Amazon’s low level of development. Calculated by the Institute for the Amazon’s People and Environment (Imazon), the index demonstrates that the municipalities that destroyed the most forest in the last three years had the worst social performance.

On average, the 29 municipalities with the highest SPI scores (above 61.80) deforested 20 km² between 2020 and 2022, according to data from the National Institute for Space Research’s PRODES Project. On the other hand, the 89 municipalities that had the lowest SPI scores (less than 50.12) cleared an average of 86 km² of forest in this period, more than four times as much. Furthermore, the average SPI of the 20 municipalities that destroyed the most forest in the last three years (52.30) was lower than that of the Amazon region as a whole (54.32). One example of a poor performer is São Félix do Xingu in southern Pará. This municipality felled more than 1,700 km² of forest in the period and obtained an SPI of only 52.56.

“The SPI is a little better in state capitals and in some other municipalities with more than 200,000 inhabitants. On the other hand, in general, municipalities with high rates of deforestation have very low scores. This shows once again that the expansion of deforestation has not generated development in the Amazon. On the contrary, it has left the region’s 27 million inhabitants in precarious social conditions,” points out Beto Veríssimo, Imazon’s co-founder and research coordinator.

In 2020, the Amazon was responsible for around 52% of Brazil’s greenhouse gas emissions but it only contributed 9% of its GDP. “The economic growth and deforestation curves are not correlated. In the period when deforestation dropped the most, between 2004 and 2012, the Amazon’s economy grew. The opposite happened in recent years, from 2017 to 2022, when destruction increased and the economy slumped,” Veríssimo adds.

If the Amazon were a country, it would have one of the world’s worst Social Progress Index scores

In 2023, the Amazon region’s SPI score was 54.32, 25% lower than Brazil’s score of 67.94. If the Amazon were a separate country, its SPI score would be equivalent to that of Malawi. The African nation came 125th out of the 169 countries evaluated in the last Global SPI assessment, in 2022. In other words, the Amazon would be the 44th worst country in the world in terms of quality of life. Although the world index uses different indicators, this comparison illustrates the critical social situation in this region.

Furthermore, none of the Amazon’s nine states exceeded the national average. Even the best performer, Mato Grosso (57.38), was still 18% lower than the Brazilian score. The worst results were recorded in Pará (52.68), Acre (52.99) and Roraima (53.19).

The 2023 Amazon Social Progress Index has three dimensions of indicators: Basic Human Needs, Foundations for Well-Being and Opportunities. The latter was the one with the worst performance: while Brazil’s score was 58.38, the Amazon obtained just 40.31, 45% lower than the national average. This dimension encompasses indicators such as family vulnerability, gender violence, child labor, access to higher education, public transport and access to culture and leisure. Among the dimensions’ different components, those with the lowest scores in the Amazon were Access to Higher Education (13.19), Access to Information and Communication (13.25) and Individual Rights (25.59). The components with the best results were Nutrition and Basic Medical Care (86.70), Health and Well-Being (82.31) and Housing (79.66).

“To promote social progress in the Amazon, it is necessary to drastically reduce deforestation and associated illegal activities, as they worsen the economic environment, inhibiting good investments and thereby delaying the march of prosperity in the region,” Veríssimo explains.

Jacareacanga and Faro reveal quality of life contrasts

Two municipalities in the same state exemplify the contrasts found in the SPI, in terms of the Amazon’s social development: Jacareacanga and Faro, in Pará. While the first had the worst score among the region’s 772 municipalities (42.43), the latter obtained the 23rd best score (62.70).

Located in southwestern Pará, a region marked by the expansion of deforestation and social conflicts, Jacareacanga had almost 9,000 inhabitants and per capita GDP of R$6,380 in 2019. Faro, one of the most forested municipalities in the Amazon, located in the north of the state, in the Lower Amazon region, had around 7,000 inhabitants and per capita GDP of R$8,100 in the same year.

“Faro is the only municipality with fewer than 10,000 inhabitants among the top 29 ranked by the SPI. Although it has a low per capita GDP, the municipality manages to deliver better social results, mainly due to good performance in law and order,” says Veríssimo.

Index’s time series shows Amazon’s stagnation

This is the fourth edition of the Amazon SPI, which was also published in 2014, 2018 and 2021. This year, two new indicators were added to the Opportunities dimension, in the Individual Rights component: access to human rights programs and the existence of actions for minority rights. Therefore, the 2023 edition recalculated the scores for previous years, based on the 47 indicators used in the latest edition. The result showed that the Amazon remains stagnant in terms of social development, always with a score of 54, varying only in the decimal places.

Among the three dimensions analyzed, the Amazon improved in Basic Human Needs and Foundations for Well-Being, but worsened in Opportunities. Among the 12 components that aggregate the 47 indicators, the region saw worse performance in half of them: Nutrition and Basic Medical Care, Personal Safety, Access to Information and Communication, Quality of the Environment, Individual Freedom, and Social Inclusion.

“History shows that since the beginning of the cycle of occupation of the Amazon based on deforestation, in the 1970s, the social, economic and environmental results have been disastrous. The Amazon has enormous potential for development without deforestation, mainly through increased agricultural production in areas that have already been cleared, improvements to the bioeconomy, and payments for environmental services where the forest remains standing,” Veríssimo says.

About the Social Progress Index

The SPI is a respected international index created in 2013 to analyze the social and environmental conditions of any territory (country, state, municipality or even community). Based on the understanding that development indexes based only on economic indicators are insufficient, the SPI exclusively uses social and environmental variables. They are grouped into 12 components and three dimensions, which generate a score from 0 to 100, from worst to best, for each of them. The Amazon SPI calculates the average score across the three dimensions.

In Brazil, Imazon has published this index for the Amazon region since 2014, when it was the first time it was used on a subnational scale in the world. The Amazon SPI was published as part of the Amazon 2030 project in 2021 and now in 2023. In addition, for each of the 772 Amazonian municipalities, the SPI presents a scorecard, which makes it easier to compare the scores between locations with similar per capita economic output.

When calculating the 2023 Amazon SPI, Imazon and the Amazon 2030 project were supported by a partnership with the Amazon Entrepreneurship Center and Social Progress Imperative. The 2023 Amazon SPI was also supported by ICS, CLUA and Fundo Vale. GDP calculations in 2023 Amazon Social Progress Index