Thursday, May 31, 2007

NL legislature passes motion to reduce province's poverty rate over 10 years

from The CBC

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. (CP) - Members of the Newfoundland and Labrador legislature are vowing to reduce the province's poverty rate over the next decade.

They passed a motion Wednesday pledging to transform their province from the one with the highest percentage of poor to one with the lowest within ten years.

Terry French, the member for Conception Bay South, introduced the motion saying the focus had to cover everyone from working poor to single parents to aboriginal groups.

Port de Grave member Roland Butler says their vote sets an ambitious goal because poverty is so hard to define.

He says one thing that would help is job creation, especially in rural areas.

[Press Release] From Poverty to Prosperity: A National Strategy to Cut Poverty in Half

from American Progress

By The Center for American Progress Task Force on Poverty

Thirty-seven million Americans live below the official poverty line. Millions more struggle each month to pay for basic necessities, or run out of savings when they lose their jobs or face health emergencies. Poverty imposes enormous costs on society. The lost potential of children raised in poor households, the lower productivity and earnings of poor adults, the poor health, increased crime, and broken neighborhoods all hurt our nation. Persistent childhood poverty is estimated to cost our nation $500 billion each year, or about four percent of the nation’s gross domestic product. In a world of increasing global competition, we cannot afford to squander these human resources.

The Center for American Progress last year convened a diverse group of national experts and leaders to examine the causes and consequences of poverty in America and make recommendations for national action. In this report, our Task Force on Poverty calls for a national goal of cutting poverty in half in the next 10 years and proposes a strategy to reach the goal.

Our nation has seen periods of dramatic poverty reduction at times when near-full employment was combined with sound federal and state policies, motivated individual initiative, supportive civic involvement, and sustained national commitment. In the last six years, however, our nation has moved in the opposite direction. The number of poor Americans has grown by five million, while inequality has reached historic high levels.

Consider the following facts:

* One in eight Americans now lives in poverty. A family of four is considered poor if the family’s income is below $19,971—a bar far below what most people believe a family needs to get by. Still, using this measure, 12.6 percent of all Americans were poor in 2005, and more than 90 million people (31 percent of all Americans) had incomes below 200 percent of federal poverty thresholds.

* Millions of Americans will spend at least one year in poverty at some point in their lives. One third of all Americans will experience poverty within a 13-year period. In that period, one in 10 Americans are poor for most of the time, and one in 20 are poor for 10 or more years.

* Poverty in the United States is far higher than in many other developed nations. At the turn of the 21st century, the United States ranked 24th among 25 countries when measuring the share of the population below 50 percent of median income.

* Inequality has reached record highs. The richest 1 percent of Americans in 2005 held the largest share of the nation’s income (19 percent) since 1929. At the same time, the poorest 20 percent of Americans held only 3.4 percent of the nation’s income.

It does not have to be this way. Our nation need not tolerate persistent poverty alongside great wealth.

The United States should set a national goal of cutting poverty in half over the next 10 years. A strategy to cut poverty in half should be guided by four principles:

* Promote Decent Work. People should work and work should pay enough to ensure that workers and their families can avoid poverty, meet basic needs, and save for the future.

* Provide Opportunity for All. Children should grow up in conditions that maximize their opportunities for success; adults should have opportunities throughout their lives to connect to work, get more education, live in a good neighborhood, and move up in the workforce.

* Ensure Economic Security. Americans should not fall into poverty when they cannot work or work is unavailable, unstable, or pays so little that they cannot make ends meet.

* Help People Build Wealth. All Americans should have the opportunity to build assets that allow them to weather periods of flux and volatility, and to have the resources that may be essential to advancement and upward mobility.

We recommend 12 key steps to cut poverty in half:

1. Raise and index the minimum wage to half the average hourly wage. At $5.15, the federal minimum wage is at its lowest level in real terms since 1956. The federal minimum wage was once 50 percent of the average wage but is now 30 percent of that wage. Congress should restore the minimum wage to 50 percent of the average wage, about $8.40 an hour in 2006. Doing so would help nearly 5 million poor workers and nearly 10 million other low-income workers.

2. Expand the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit. As an earnings supplement for low-income working families, the EITC raises incomes and helps families build assets. The Child Tax Credit provides a tax credit of up to $1,000 per child, but provides no help to the poorest families. We recommend tripling the EITC for childless workers and expanding help to larger working families. We recommend making the Child Tax Credit available to all low- and moderate-income families. Doing so would move as many as 5 million people out of poverty.

3. Promote unionization by enacting the Employee Free Choice Act. The Employee Free Choice Act would require employers to recognize a union after a majority of workers signs cards authorizing union representation and establish stronger penalties for violation of employee rights. The increased union representation made possible by the Act would lead to better jobs and less poverty for American workers.

4. Guarantee child care assistance to low-income families and promote early education for all. We propose that the federal and state governments guarantee child care help to families with incomes below about $40,000 a year, with expanded tax help to higher-earning families. At the same time, states should be encouraged to improve the quality of early education and broaden access for all children. Our child care expansion would raise employment among low-income parents and help nearly 3 million parents and children escape poverty.

5. Create 2 million new “opportunity” housing vouchers, and promote equitable development in and around central cities. Nearly 8 million Americans live in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty where at least 40 percent of residents are poor. Our nation should seek to end concentrated poverty and economic segregation, and promote regional equity and inner-city revitalization. We propose that over the next 10 years the federal government fund 2 million new “opportunity vouchers” designed to help people live in opportunity-rich areas. Any new affordable housing should be in communities with employment opportunities and high-quality public services, or in gentrifying communities. These housing policies should be part of a broader effort to pursue equitable development strategies in regional and local planning efforts, including efforts to improve schools, create affordable housing, assure physical security, and enhance neighborhood amenities.

6. Connect disadvantaged and disconnected youth with school and work. About 1.7 million poor youth ages 16 to 24 were out of school and out of work in 2005. We recommend that the federal government restore Youth Opportunity Grants to help the most disadvantaged communities and expand funding for effective and promising youth programs—with the goal of reaching 600,000 poor disadvantaged youth through these efforts. We propose a new Upward Pathway program to offer low-income youth opportunities to participate in service and training in fields that are in high-demand and provide needed public services.

7. Simplify and expand Pell Grants and make higher education accessible to residents of each state. Low-income youth are much less likely to attend college than their higher income peers, even among those of comparable abilities. Pell Grants play a crucial role for lower-income students. We propose to simplify the Pell grant application process, gradually raise Pell Grants to reach 70 percent of the average costs of attending a four-year public institution, and encourage institutions to do more to raise student completion rates. As the federal government does its part, states should develop strategies to make postsecondary education affordable for all residents, following promising models already underway in a number of states.

8. Help former prisoners find stable employment and reintegrate into their communities. The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. We urge all states to develop comprehensive reentry services aimed at reintegrating former prisoners into their communities with full-time, consistent employment.

9. Ensure equity for low-wage workers in the Unemployment Insurance system. Only about 35 percent of the unemployed, and a smaller share of unemployed low-wage workers, receive unemployment insurance benefits. We recommend that states (with federal help) reform “monetary eligibility” rules that screen out low-wage workers, broaden eligibility for part-time workers and workers who have lost employment as a result of compelling family circumstances, and allow unemployed workers to use periods of unemployment as a time to upgrade their skills and qualifications.

10. Modernize means-tested benefits programs to develop a coordinated system that helps workers and families. A well-functioning safety net should help people get into or return to work and ensure a decent level of living for those who cannot work or are temporarily between jobs. Our current system fails to do so. We recommend that governments at all levels simplify and improve benefits access for working families and improve services to individuals with disabilities. The Food Stamp Program should be strengthened to improve benefits, eligibility, and access. And the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program should be reformed to shift its focus from cutting caseloads to helping needy families find sustainable employment.

11. Reduce the high costs of being poor and increase access to financial services. Despite having less income, lower-income families often pay more than middle and high-income families for the same consumer products. We recommend that the federal and state governments should address the foreclosure crisis through expanded mortgage assistance programs and by new federal legislation to curb unscrupulous practices. And we propose that the federal government establish a $50 million Financial Fairness Innovation Fund to support state efforts to broaden access to mainstream goods and financial services in predominantly low-income communities.

12. Expand and simplify the Saver’s Credit to encourage saving for education, homeownership, and retirement. For many families, saving for purposes such as education, a home, or a small business is key to making economic progress. We propose that the federal “Saver’s Credit” be reformed to make it fully refundable. This Credit should also be broadened to apply to other appropriate savings vehicles intended to foster asset accumulation, with consideration given to including individual development accounts, children’s saving accounts, and college savings plans.

Our recommendations would cut poverty in half. The Urban Institute, which modeled the implementation of one set of our recommendations, estimates that four of our steps would reduce poverty by 26 percent, bringing us more than halfway toward our goal. Among their findings:

* Taken together, our minimum wage, EITC, child credit, and child care recommendations would reduce poverty by 26 percent. This would mean 9.4 million fewer people in poverty and a national poverty rate of 9.1 percent—the lowest in recorded U.S. history.

* The racial poverty gap would be narrowed: White poverty would fall from 8.7 percent to 7 percent. Poverty among African Americans would fall from 21.4 percent to 15.6 percent. Hispanic poverty would fall from 21.4 percent to 12.9 percent and poverty for all others would fall from 12.7 percent to 10.3 percent.

* Child poverty and extreme poverty would both fall: Child poverty would drop by 41 percent. The number of people in extreme poverty would fall by 2.4 million.

* Millions of low- and moderate-income families would benefit. Almost half of the benefits of our proposal would help low- and moderate-income families.

That these recommendations would reduce poverty by more than one quarter is powerful evidence that a 50 percent reduction can be reached within a decade.

The combined cost of our principal recommendations is in the range of $90 billion a year—a significant cost but one that could be readily funded through a fairer tax system. An additional $90 billion in annual spending would represent about 0.8 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product, which is a fraction of the money spent on tax changes that benefited primarily the wealthy in recent years. Consider that:

* The current annual costs of the tax cuts enacted by Congress in 2001 and 2003 are in the range of $400 billion a year.

* In 2008 alone the value of the tax cuts to households with incomes exceeding $200,000 a year is projected to be $100 billion.

Our recommendations could be fully paid for simply by bringing better balance to the federal tax system and recouping part of what has been lost by the excessive tax cuts of recent years. We recognize that serious action has serious costs, but the challenge before the nation is not that we cannot afford to act; rather, it is that we must decide to act.

The Next Steps

In 2009, we will have a new president and a new Congress. Across the nation, there is a yearning for a shared national commitment to build a better, fairer, more prosperous country, with opportunity for all. In communities across the nation, policymakers, business people, people of faith, and concerned citizens are coming together. Our commitment to the common good compels us to move forward.

Islamic bank launches $10 bln poverty fund

from Reuters

By Diadie Ba

DAKAR, March 30 (Reuters) - The Islamic Development Bank launched a $10 billion fund on Wednesday to combat poverty in developing Muslim nations in Africa and other parts of the world.

The fund, which has an initial endowment of $1.4 billion, will be dedicated to alleviating poverty, promoting health and universal education, and empowering women in the bank's 56 member countries.

"This launching ceremony of the IDB's Poverty Alleviation Fund symbolises a revitalisation of the Islamic community in a world where unmatched wealth is next to absolute poverty," the host of the bank's annual meeting, Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, told delegates.

Saudi Arabia has already pledged to contribute $1 billion, Kuwait $300 million, Iran $100 million and Senegal $10 million, bank officials said.

The aim of the fund is to help meet the U.N. Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), proposed by then-Secretary-General Kofi Annan and approved by world leaders in 2000.

They include cutting extreme poverty by half, ensuring universal primary education, and stemming the AIDS pandemic, all by 2015, among others.

IDB Vice-President Amadou Babacar Cisse said the Saudi Arabian-based bank would be active across the whole of the African continent, not just in those countries where Islam was the predominant religion.

"For us the main goal on the African continent is the fight against poverty," Cisse told Reuters. "We are not a religious-orientated institution."

Under Islamic law, the bank may not charge interest on its financial loans but it aims to cover its expenses in the projects it finances. It sees its operations complementing the activities of other multilateral lenders such as the World Bank.

"The Bretton Woods institutions are our long-time partners. We have always cooperated with those institutions," Cisse said.

Govt, Partners to Help Fight Child Poverty

from All Africa

BuaNews (Tshwane)

By Nozipho Dlamini

Government and its partners have agreed to invest in community based early childhood development interventions that will help to alleviate poverty and assist in economic growth and human capital investment.

This came out at a two day symposium on tackling child poverty. The symposium formed part of Child Protection Week, which runs from 28 May to 4 June.

Addressing the last day of the symposium Tuesday, Deputy Minister of Social Development Jean Swanson-Jacobs said there was clearly a lot of work to be done to halve child poverty.

Dr Swanson-Jacobs further reiterated the importance of integrated coordination between government, non-governmental organisations and civil society to further the cause of South African children.

She said the working groups of the symposium recommended the adoption of some of these community development approaches to deal with child poverty:

* providing infra-structure to ensure effective community based intervention that will address basic needs;

* community education and information to create awareness;

* restoring entrepreneurial spirit linked to the beneficiaries of social grants; and

* sustainable funding.

The Child Protection Week is government's annual campaign to educate and mobilise communities to put children first.

The campaign focuses on mobilising all sectors of society to promote children's well-being.

This year's campaign also highlights the fight against child poverty and protection.

At the opening of Child Protection Week Monday, Social Development Minister Zola Skweyiya noted that government was strengthening collaborations to address social ills such as child neglect, abuse and exploitation as well as substance abuse and other circumstances that perpetuate child vulnerability.

He said child poverty could not be dealt with in isolation from the broader context of the family and the community.

"Most of the South African families and communities, in particular those who were disadvantaged by the past regime find it very difficult to get out of the poverty trap.

"They have remained poor throughout their lifespan and in many cases across generations," said Dr Skweyiya.

South Africa will join the world on Friday to observe International Children's Day.

The day will be observed under the theme "fight poverty, protecting children from abuse, child development and violence directed to children".

Government has also urged all South Africans to wear the Green Ribbon during Child Protection Week to show their support for promoting children's rights.

The Green Ribbon symbolises united support for victims and survivors. It emphasises the importance of partnerships to tackle child poverty which increases vulnerability.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

New Kenya atlas connects poverty and ecosystem

from Afrol

A new atlas, designed to improve understanding of the relationships between poverty and the environment, has been released by the Kenyan government today.

The atlas and its 96 different maps contain significant and economic development analyses that will be useful to policy-makers worldwide.

"This is the result of a multi-year effort between two Kenyan and two international organizations," World Resource International (WRI) quoted the Kenyan Minister for Planning and National Development, Henry Obwocha, was quoted as saying.

"Such a 'poverty and ecosystem' atlas has never been done before for Kenya. By utilizing it, Kenyan institutions can initiate a comprehensive accounting of ecosystem services for the country. We can continue to develop new approaches to better integrate poverty-ecosystem relationships in national policies and decision-making."

Mr Obwocha will speak at the official launch of the atlas tomorrow.

Dubbed Nature's Benefits in Kenya, the atlas of ecosystems and human well-being was jointly produced by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics at the Ministry of Planning and National Development, the Kenya Department of Resource Surveys and Remote Sensing at the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, the International Livestock Research Institute, and the World Resources Institute.

The new atlas tells many important stories about Kenya. Interestingly, the atlas discovers the high milk production from cattle in more prevalent communities with lower poverty rates around Mount Kenya and Upper Tana region.

However, the challenge now is to determine whether households in these communities became less poor once they became high milk producers or whether a certain amount of capital had to be in place to support a high-milk output production system.

It is believed that an examination of areas of high milk production and high poverty rates can provide useful insights into the causes of high poverty rates. It could also help promote appropriate milk production technology in poorer communities in the upper Tana River drainage basin.

"As a result of this type of work, we will never be able to claim that we did not know," said Professor Wangari Maathai, founder of the Green Belt Movement, 2004 Nobel Peace Laureate, and a member of the Tetu Constituency of the Kenya Parliament. The Nobel laureate was given the honour to write the foreword to the atlas. She also made a videotaped statement during a news conference today, ahead of the launching.

"Planting trees has been a way to break the cycle of diminishing resources for the women of the Green Belt Movement. I see the ideas and maps in this Atlas to be much like a small seedling. If nurtured, if further developed and grown, and if used by both government and civil society, this seedling carries the promise of breaking the cycle of unenlightened decision-making that is not accountable to the people most affected by economic or environmental changes; that does not consider the impact on our children and grandchildren," Maathai said.

The President of WRI, Jonathan Lash, said, "The links between poverty and ecosystems are too often overlooked. For the majority of the poor, rural environmental resources are the key to better livelihoods and economic growth."

The atlas is a step forward from the landmark findings of the 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment - that 15 of the world's 24 ecosystem services are degraded. The Kenyan initiative will set the stage for other countries to develop similar maps.

By staff writer

Poverty pictured up close and personal

from The Independent

THE dramatic change in the face of poverty over the past two decades has been captured in a photographic exhibition which opened last night at Dublin's Civic Offices on Burgh Quay.

The photos by Derek Speirs are accompanied by a narrative detailingkey changes in Irish society from 1986 to today.

The exhibition, which is open to the public, recognises the pivotal role played by the Combat Poverty Agency in tackling poverty and marks its 20 years of existence.

Images such as secondhand Holy Communion dresses for sale in a Dublin street market or a snapshot of Finance Minister Bertie Ahern with his two young daughters remind the viewer how much has changed.

The director of the agency, Helen Johnston, said today's Ireland was a world apart from 1986 when unemployment was at 17pc and 28,000 people emigrated each year.

However, she said that while Ireland's economic success had resulted in major reductions in unemployment and a virtual end to emigration, there were new challenges to face.

"Not everyone can take up a job, and not every job guarantees an adequate income. Many people remain at risk of poverty, with 18.5pc of the population living on less than €209 per week," she said.

The exhibition focuses on a series of issues - including who is affected by poverty, how communities are responding, income adequacy, the value of education, financial exclusion and child poverty.

link to a photo in the exhibition

The exhibition will run for a week before touring the country.

Education Not Preventing Poverty

from One Stop finance UK

Research is showing that education is failing to resolve the poverty problem among Britain’s ethnic minorities.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) claims that only 20 per cent of the UK’s white population live in poverty, whilst 40 per cent of ethnic minorities live below the poverty line.

The minorities that find themselves struggling with poverty are not divided evenly. Bangladeshi and Pakistani minorities are unlikely to find employment, even if they possess a university degree. These minorities are less likely to be employed than someone who is white with an equivalent education.

The Pakistani and Bangladeshi women are “much less likely” find work than their British or Indian counterparts.

The report concludes that ethnic minorities are paid less and are “overlooked” for employment and concludes that education is failing “to close the gap”.

“Although the past decade has seen some improvements, there are still some very serious problems which remain unsolved,” JRF director Julia Unwin said.

“We need an urgent rethink from government and employers so that minority ethnic groups do not miss out on opportunities in the workplace and higher educational attainment is properly recognised.”

This is forcing many of these UK consumers into a vicious cycle of poverty. Even if these people try to pull themselves up with retraining, self-employment, and better opportunities for their children, the high cost of personal loans for people in high-risk categories keeps these people from escaping poverty.

This is an example of how higher interest rates are hurting societies most vulnerable. These consumers cannot obtain low interest secured loans, forcing them to pay higher interest, fines, and fees.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Affordable Housing Goes Green at Last

from The Next American City

by Gregory Maher and Judith Turnock

While green building techniques are becoming mainstream for government and commercial developers, as well as a growing number of well-to-do homeowners, residents of affordable housing have not yet shared in the benefits. But that is about to change.

The barriers to “greening” affordable housing are many. Because it often costs developers more to build affordable housing than they can recoup in rental or sales income, the developers work with razor-thin margins. They tend to be wary of anything that increases the upfront costs of design and construction, even if, as is the case with many green building techniques, the long-term savings would eventually outweigh the price of premium building materials. Because affordable housing developers also rely heavily on public and private subsidies, they juggle many restrictions - from per-unit cost caps to design limitations - which make it more difficult to incorporate innovative green techniques. When a project involves multiple funding sources and players, each with its own set of design and cost requirements, green innovations may get nixed early on.

But now, two large community development organizations - the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) and Enterprise Community Partners (Enterprise), formerly the Enterprise Foundation - are on board with the greening of affordable housing, and the early projects are exciting. In 2005 LISC’s Boston office expanded the Green Community Development Corporation (CDC) Initiative it formed in 2003 with other community development corporations, New Ecology, Inc., and the Tellus Institute to launch the Green Building Production Network (GBPN). GBPN has already attracted $2 million in financing for high-impact green affordable housing projects.

GBPN’s first project was Urban Edge’s Jackson Square in Boston, one of the largest CDC projects in the country to date and now in the design phase. The 430-unit community of mixed-income housing, retail space, a community center and offices, located on a twelve-acre site in Jamaica Plain, is right at a public transit stop and will also maximize green building and energy techniques:

Energy will come from a combination of photovoltaic panels, wind turbines, geo-thermal heating and cooling, green roofs, co-generation powered by burning bio-diesel fuel, and ventilation systems that allow recapture of exhaust to heat common areas. Grey water will be used for larger bathrooms in the office buildings and the community center. An array of materials and fixtures will yield improved indoor air quality: wood and cork flooring, non-vinyl floor tiles, low VOC paints, adhesives and solvents, non-toxic finishes, and continuous exhaust fan ventilation systems to control moisture. In addition, native plants as landscaping will require no irrigation. Construction is expected to begin in early 2008.

The Better Housing Coalition (BHC), a CDC in Richmond, Virginia, will begin construction of Winchester Forest, a 100-house single-family project, in the fall of 2007. The development is being built to comply with EarthCraft, a green building standard tailored to the southeastern U.S. climate and developed by Southface Energy Institute and the Greater Atlanta Home Builders Association. Winchester Forest’s window coatings and wall assembly adhere to the most energy- efficient specifications for mixed humid climates like Richmond’s. Twelve home plans, based on vernacular Virginia architecture, are designed to appeal to a wide variety of families and lifestyles. The site plan was designed to preserve existing mature trees: 90% of trees 16 inches or more in diameter will remain, and the largest clusters of mature trees have been set aside for parks. The pedestrian-oriented development has continuous sidewalks and narrow roads to encourage residents to walk to neighborhood stores and to minimize asphalt surfaces. Stormwater will be absorbed by planted rain gardens and permeable driveways throughout the community.

In Walnut Way, one of the oldest African American neighborhoods in Milwaukee, Walnut Way Conservation Corp, a CDC, is encouraging sustainability through a network of initiatives, starting ten years ago with rehab of existing historical homes, some abandoned but others owner-occupied. In all cases, they have kept existing owners in place. For the community as a whole, Walnut Way sponsors a recycling program and community vegetable and flower gardens, celebrated with an annual Harvest Festival, now in its sixth year. A 2006 expansion of the gardens added bee hives for a new honey-making venture and a recently-planted peach orchard.

Farther north, in Duluth, Minnesota, the New San Marco, which began construction in March 2006 and is on track for completion in April 2007, will serve 70 formerly homeless or addicted individuals. Enterprise, through Minnesota Green Communities, made a $150,000 grant to the project, allowing the sponsor to achieve the requirements of the Green Communities checklist. LISC added a $100,000 recoverable grant, and a LISC affiliate, the National Equity Fund, provided $5.9 million in project equity. The urban infill project is convenient to public transportation, and green design and building features include a high efficiency steam heating and hot water system, maximum use of natural daylight and energy-efficient lighting and controls, ceiling fans, Energy Star appliances, continuously ventilated bathrooms and low-VOC paints, sealants and adhesives to improve indoor air quality, and landscaping that requires no irrigation.

There has been a significant shift in the momentum surrounding green affordable housing projects such as these, compared to just a few years ago. Local funding pools are larger, and the relationships between lenders and community groups are stronger. More important than funding, however, is systemic change, beginning with the idea that sustainability is an appropriate and important goal for residents of affordable housing. Thanks to leadership from LISC, Enterprise, and the thousands in their national network, those changes are happening.

Legwork on the road from poverty

from The San Francisco Chronicle

Dance school gives young Colombians upward mobility

Jens Erik Gould, Chronicle Foreign Service

Cartagena de Indias, Colombia -- In a dim practice space tucked into the colorful colonial district of this popular tourist center, a dancer wears a black T-shirt that reads, "Dream as if you'll live forever; live as if you'll die today."

Alvaro Restrepo, 49, who leads his dancers to extend their muscular torsos and outstretched legs to the baroque melodies of Vivaldi's Four Seasons, has taken that quote from actor James Dean to heart.

Dance is precisely what he's using to rescue youths impoverished or displaced by the country's brutal 4-decade-old civil war. Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, Restrepo's Colegio del Cuerpo, or College of the Body, is part of a growing wave of programs across Colombia that are helping embattled children develop a way out of conflict through love of the arts.

His dance academy has been honored by the United Nations as an alternative for conflict resolution in war-torn areas and praised by the contemporary dance world for its cutting-edge choreographies. Its best dancers have performed across Europe and Latin America, and made their U.S. debut in New York last month.

"They've had the opportunity to become citizens of the world, and this is something that's not usual in this kind of society," Restrepo said in perfect English with traces of both U.S. and British accents.

His program is taking on a crisis that stumps governments and nongovernmental organizations around the world: How to rescue children who grow up in bloody conflicts or destitute poverty. Colombia, which has more than 3 million internally displaced people -- the world's second-largest displaced population, after Sudan -- is a most troubling case.

At an early age, many Colombian children are forced with a terrible decision -- either earn money by joining a death squad or drug gang, or remain poor and vulnerable to such groups.

Some of the academy's young dancers live in Cartagena's sprawling shantytown called Nelson Mandela, named after the South African leader. It is home to thousands of displaced people from the surrounding region, and until recently the slum had no running water, electricity or public transportation. Right-wing death squads have targeted residents and dumped their victims on slum streets.

Restrepo's school is one of the few vehicles for helping children in violent Nelson Mandela escape such poverty.

Take Viridiana Calvo. At 10, criminals killed her father. Soon after, her mother, a cashier, lost her job after the supermarket where she worked was bombed. Out of money, the family moved to Nelson Mandela. Viridiana stopped going to school.

Fast forward eight years and the tall, fair-skinned 18-year-old prances gracefully across stages on several continents. Her dedication to dance has earned her a spot in the school's professional dance company, a scholarship and a monthly salary, which has helped her family move to a safer area.

"I owe all of this to the College of the Body -- to be able to tell you that I believe I can live with dignity," Calvo said.

Victor Cassiani, 17, and his family moved to Nelson Mandela after armed groups fighting over turf forced them to leave their rural farm whose corn, plantains and cassava harvests were their livelihood. "We can't go back because those groups kill," Cassiani said.

Having lost everything, three generations of his extended family now crowd into a tattered wooden shack deep among the shantytown's disorderly hovels and muddy roads. His grandfather, who sells vegetables in the city market, and mother, a maid, said the dance program will bring Victor an opportunity they never had.

"Before you had to have money to be able to pursue a profession," said Eluterio Cassiani, the grandfather. "That's why I tell him to keep going so he'll be a great person who everyone admires."

This depressed area with mainly African Colombian residents is also a stark reminder of the social rift that divides Cartagena, which is essentially two cities in one. The better-known side is the historical walled city that tourists flock to, a UNESCO World Heritage site and vacationing spot for such renowned figures as Colombia's famed author Gabriel Garcia Marquez and the country's mostly-white elite. Between the two is an entrenched racism that still festers in a city whose role as a major slave port once made it a lucrative hub for the Spanish crown, historians say.

The dance school, which includes many African Colombians, aims to mend the divide, and has met resistance not just because of class conflict. Cartagena is used to traditional music such as the cumbia and the Caribbean genre known as salsa -- not the eclectic movements of contemporary dance.

The elites "have tried to ignore it," Restrepo said. "But I think it's becoming more and more difficult to ignore. In a way I think it's a project that's contributing to change the mentality of the city."

Nothing seemed further removed from violence and poverty than contemporary dance when Restrepo, a protege of world-renowned American dancer Martha Graham and other innovators of modern dance in New York, returned to his native Colombia two decades ago.

Restrepo performed internationally until he teamed up with French dance director Marie-France Delieuvin to build the Cartegena academy, believing that "arts were a very good tool for helping kids."

Last year, the Japanese government and the World Bank signed an agreement to give academy students not only dance classes, but courses in ethics, drug prevention and sex education to more than 3,000 of the city's poorest children. Sponsors also include the Swiss UBS bank, a German pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim and the Ministry of Culture.

Meanwhile, Restrepo and his dancers resist being labeled a social experiment, insisting they be recognized foremost for their high artistic standards.

"When we show the company we don't want (people) to come see a social project," Restrepo said. "We want them to come and see great dancers."

Grants key in poverty fight

from Fin 24

Johannesburg - Social grants were one of the most effective means of alleviating poverty among children, researchers said in Johannesburg on Monday.

Speaking at a symposium on child poverty coinciding with the launch of Child Protection Week, Katherine Hall of the University of Cape Town said child support grants had proved to be effective in helping eradicating poverty.

The grants reached a large number of children including those in remote areas, she said.

"In reality it reaches an even greater proportion, because benefits are shared within households.

"In the absence of employment opportunities, child grants are often the only way to address the lack of income for children living in poverty."

Hall said that social grants had also helped children overcome financial barriers that prevented them from going to school.

At present, eight million children receive the social grants, while more than 400 000 receive the foster care grant.

The most important cause of poverty was the structural inequalities caused by apartheid, she said.

"Although children are being born in a time of democracy they are also born into inequality because they still lived in a society where equal rights do not translate into equal opportunities."

According to Statistics SA, over 63% of black African children live in households with a monthly income of less than R800, while only 4% of white children live in households that are this poor.

On the other hand, 64% of white children live in households with a monthly income of over R6 000.

Hall said these discrepancies show there was a need for goverment to increase social grants and to raise the age limit for children to receiving the grant above the present 14.

"The more children who access social grants, the more income to the household in which they live.

"Households with children under 14 years are currently better off than those with children over 14," Hall said.

Faces of poverty captured in exhibition

from Ireland On line

Poverty in Ireland will be captured in an unique photographic exhibition to be unveiled in Dublin tonight.

Combating Poverty 20 Years On marks the 20th anniversary of the Combat Poverty Agency.

The exhibition combines the work of renowned photographer Derek Speirs with an historical narrative.

In more than 60 photographs, it presents a year-by-year illustration of the changing face of Ireland from 1986 to today’s Celtic Tiger economy.

The exhibition also explores the pivotal role that charity has played in defining, measuring and tackling poverty in Ireland over the past 20 years.

Combating Poverty 20 Years On will be on show at the civic offices on Burgh Quay for a week before touring the country.

Sussex MPs demand action to end world poverty

from The Argus

By Andy Tate

Seven Sussex MPs have demanded urgent action to end global poverty and tackle climate change.

The MPs have signed a Parliamentary motion, ahead of next month's G8 summit in Germany, pressing the leaders of the world's richest countries to deliver on their promises on aid, debt cancellation and fair trade.

In 2005, at a previous summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, world leaders made a series of pledges which, if fulfilled, would help millions escape extreme poverty.

Two years on, 1.2 billion people still struggle to survive on less than $1 a day. Anti-poverty campaigners are warning that without urgent action most of the promises are at risk of being broken.

They say it is vital that leaders attending the Germany G8 summit, which starts on June 6, not only reaffirm existing targets but make further, far-reaching commitments.

The Commons early day motion, signed by a total of 231 MPs, reads: "At the halfway point of the Millennium Development Goals the world is off-track to meet the key targets on eradicating poverty by 2015."

It notes the "continued public mandate for urgent political action to end poverty and climate chaos".

And it calls on the British Government "to use its influence in Europe and within the G8 to ensure debt cancellation and more and better aid, trade justice, healthcare, education, water and sanitation for all, and firm plans to prevent catastrophic climate change".

It adds: "The world can't wait to make poverty history."

The Sussex MPs who have signed the motion are David Lepper (Brighton Pavilion), Peter Bottomley (West Worthing), Laura Moffatt (Crawley), Des Turner (Brighton Kemptown), Norman Baker (Lewes), Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne) and Nicholas Soames (Mid Sussex).

More than 90 campaigning organisations in the UK have joined forces to organise a mass anti-poverty rally in central London on Saturday (June 2) to remind G8 leaders they are being watched.

Mr Lepper said: "It is imperative that the G8 member states live up to their commitments to eradicate poverty and tackle climate change, so I will be urging the UK government to take stronger action and use its influence in Europe and the G8.

"I will also be encouraging my constituents and their friends and families to sign up to the campaign and to travel to London on June 2 to ensure that their voices are heard in the fight against poverty."

Matt Phillips, head of campaigns at Save the Children, said: "It's critical MPs back this campaign - words mean nothing without action. 2005 saw a huge public mandate for dramatic action to make poverty history. But we need more urgency because children are missing out on healthcare and education. Rich countries must act, the world can't wait."

Namibia taking a hard look at poverty

from The Namibian


POVERTY remains a scourge that the world is grappling with, and the case is no different in Namibia, where stakeholders are meeting for a three-day conference to discuss how the country can find effective means to reduce poverty.

The first national conference on poverty reduction, unemployment and entrepreneurship, which began in Windhoek yesterday, is being held under the theme 'Entrepreneurship as an alternative source to employment creation and poverty alleviation'.

About 80 delegates are attending.

This conference comes at a time when statistics reveal that poverty is a major concern for the country.

According to official data released by the National Planning Commission (NPC), the northern regions - where most of Namibia's population lives - have the highest poverty rates.

The Kavango Region tops the list at 50,4 per cent, followed by Oshikoto (47 per cent), Caprivi (46,7 per cent) and Omusati (43,5 per cent).

The Hardap Region was also noted in this category.

Unemployment in the country increased from 19 per cent in 1993/94 to 36 per cent in 2004, while extreme poverty declined from nine per cent to four per cent during the same period.

The NPC highlighted that poverty was rife in rural areas, adding that a survey had shown that "unemployment, inadequate assets such as livestock and land, and poor road infrastructure are the major problems in these regions."

Officially opening the conference yesterday morning on behalf of President Hifikepunye Pohamba, Minister of Presidential Affairs Dr Albert Kawana welcomed the initiative, saying it would serve as a platform for stakeholders to share ideas on real issues affecting the majority of the population.

"I believe that this conference will indeed serve as a catalyst for other stakeholders to start thinking, not only about their role in the implementation of Vision 2030, but also about other aspects of social and economic development of our country as reflected in the theme of this conference," read Pohamba's speech.

Pohamba said Government was aware of the difficulties facing SMEs and emerging entrepreneurs, hence the introduction of policies and setting up of industrial parks to assist in setting up their businesses.

"Poverty is the biggest enemy of democracy, peace, unity, security and stability.

It is, therefore, in our interest to address poverty as joint venture between the Government and the private sector."

The organisers of the event hope this conference would bring about meaningful recommendations to deal with the crisis.

"It is our hope that after this conference, we as the Namibian nation will be in a better position to understand and comprehend the challenges and problems of unemployment and poverty and how to best address those challenges," said event co-organiser Tonata Shiimi of A-Z Investment Holdings.

Namibia's Third National Development Plan (NDP3) aims to reduce extreme poverty from four per cent to two per cent and cut the unemployment rate from 36 per cent to 30 per cent by 2011/12.

Palestinian poverty is alarming - report

from The Independent On Line

The plight of Palestinians in the occupied territories has worsened dramatically, with
2.4-million now living in poverty, according to a report published on Monday by the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

In a study of territories including the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights, the UN agency said the economic crisis had accelerated with the number of households below the poverty line increasing 26 percent in the year to March 2007.

Seven out of ten Palestinian households were in poverty today; nine out of ten in Gaza and one in two in the West Bank. Only one in three people had a job. Each employed person supported six dependents.

"More persons are in poverty, in deeper poverty and food insecurity than ever before," states the report, blaming this on the "dire" employment situation.

Gross domestic product was 40 per cent lower in 2006 than in 1999. Exports had been in continuous free fall since then too, dropping another nine per cent in 2006.

The report blamed constant border closures and constraints by the Israelis which left the territories isolated and made it too expensive to move goods.

"There is territorial disintegration, with a tight network of closures, sophisticated controls and the expansion of illegal settlements," said the report, adding that "closures are the main cause of the worsening socio-economic situation of Palestinian women and men."

The economic crisis had been compounded by falling average income, aggravated by the non payment of full wages to public employees since April 2006. The increase in humanitarian assistance to tackle the growing crisis was creating a dependency economy.

"The Palestinian economy must be revived," concluded the report, which was prepared for the ILO's annual International Labour Conference in Geneva later this week.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Premier Campbell says Anti-Poverty Committee members are 'phonies'

from News 1130AM

VANCOUVER (NEWS1130) - The Premier is upset three members of the Anti-Poverty Committee used false pretenses to get into the Vancouver cabinet offices yesterday and trashed the reception area. Gordon Campbell isn't worried about his security but does have concerns about his staff members.

Campbell also feels media members who saw the protesters trying to get into the offices at Canada Place should have let the receptionist know what was up. TV cameras were rolling when the APC members entered the office.

Campbell says if the Anti-Poverty Committee thought their violent actions would help them set up a meeting with him, they were mistaken. "I have no intention of ever meeting with them. I don't think there would be any reason to meet with them. I think they're destructive. I think that they're phonies, frankly."

Campbell says he has no problem meeting with legitimate organizations concerned about poverty like the Union Gospel Mission or the Salvation Army.

Government Might Fail to Halve Child Poverty, Charity Warns

from Christian Today

A children’s charity recently warned that the Government will fail to halve child poverty in Britain by 2010 unless it spends another £3.8bn, a leading children's charity has warned.
by Kevin Donovan

A children’s charity recently warned that the government will fail to halve child poverty in Britain by 2010 unless it spends another £3.8bn, a leading children's charity has warned.

Barnardo's, one of the UK's leading children's charities, said ministers were a long way from honouring the pledge Prime Minister Tony Blair made eight years ago.

One million children who should have been lifted out of deprivation by the end of the decade will still be in poverty, the charity's research suggests.

Barnardo's said that the number of children living in poor families had fallen slowly but steadily in the late 1990s, but that progress had now stalled altogether.

The charity said the Government needed to invest a lump sum in addition to the £1bn already earmarked for tax credits in the 2007 budget in order to meet the 2010 target.

The charity said the required figure was less than half the cost of staging the Olympics and represented less than half the £9bn paid in City bonuses last year.

But the report did congratulate the Prime Minister for his original "historic and ambitious" target of halving the number of children living in poverty from 3.4 million to 1.7 million by the end of the decade.

Martin Narey, Barnardo's chief executive and chairman of End Child Poverty, said the future Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, still had a chance to continue the battle against child poverty started by Mr Blair.

"He has a unique opportunity," he said. "His actions as Prime Minister could make the United Kingdom a better place for our children."

He said poverty caused children to miss out on what "most would consider essentials".

"These effects can last a lifetime - children growing up in poverty have worse health, worse exam results and, very frequently, will end their adult lives still in poverty."

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Congo intensifies fight against malaria

from Reuters Alert Net

BRAZZAVILLE, 16 May 2007 (IRIN) - The Republic of Congo is stepping up its fight against infant and juvenile cases of malaria with an initiative to issue bed nets to children and pregnant women.

"The disease can hamper the economic development of the country so we have launched an initiative for children and pregnant women to be given impregnated mosquito nets," said Emilienne Raoul, minister of health, social affairs and family.

This project aims to reduce morbidity and mortality linked to the disease among children younger than five and pregnant women, she added.

For Raoul, among other difficulties encountered in the fight against malaria is the resistance to the usual anti-malaria treatments as well as the high cost of new therapeutic combinations based on Artemisinin-derived products.

National anti-malaria policy

In Congo, the fight against malaria is year-round thanks to climatic conditions that favour the development of the anopheles mosquitoes, which carries the disease, and human resistance to the usual anti-malaria treatments, particularly chloroquine.

The general objective of this latest five-year anti-malaria initiative (to 2011) is to reduce maternal and infant-juvenile mortality by 50 percent and morbidity linked to the disease in the population in general, and particularly among children under five and pregnant women.

For the Congolese government, intensifying the fight against malaria is also part of its poverty reduction strategy in order to boost economic growth.

Mosquito nets the best prevention

Malaria prevention, by using bed nets impregnated with insecticide, constitutes the most efficient and cheapest alternative for a population living below the poverty line.

More than 70 percent of Congolese already use non-impregnated mosquito nets. In some districts of the Sangha, Likouala and the Cuvette department, in the north, about 80 percent of inhabitants use mosquito nets.

Impregnated mosquito nets significantly reduce infection in children younger than five. The widespread utilisation of impregnated mosquito nets is a major component of the national programme against malaria in Congo, helped by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).

According to UNICEF, three-quarters of Congolese households have at least one mosquito net, impregnated or not (76 percent). In Pointe-Noire, the second-largest city and economic capital of the country, 85 percent of households use mosquito nets, while in Brazzaville, rates are 81 percent.

However, in rural areas, mosquito nets are used in fewer than 60 percent of households.

But only 9 percent of households have at least one impregnated mosquito net. In Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire, among the wealthiest households this proportion is slightly higher than national average (respectively 13 and 15 percent).

In other areas, the average number of impregnated mosquito nets per household is extremely low (0.2 percent). The objective is to make impregnated mosquito nets universal throughout the country.

Preventive care is automatically given to pregnant women in the public healthcare system. In 2006, more than 12,600 pregnant women were given preventive treatment. Among the rest of the population, prevention is not widespread and depends on the level of information in a household on how to fight malaria.

According to WHO data, malaria kills a child younger than five every 30 seconds in Africa. Fatoumata Nafo Traoré, WHO representative in Congo, said more than a million malaria cases result in death each year.

"The disease generates economic losses for Africa each year estimated at US$12 billion," she added.

Bishop, Liberal leader urge government action on poverty

from The Halifax Daily News

The Daily News

When Bishop Sue Moxley started as minister at St. Mark's Anglican Church in 1997, parishioners set aside $200 a month to help the poor. By 2004, the year she left as minister, that amount had jumped to $3,000. Meanwhile, the church-run food bank was offering groceries to 3,000 people a month.

"The last year I was at St. Mark's, there were any number of people who phoned and said, 'We need help with our oil bill, and our social worker told us to call the church.' I would say that's downloading," Moxley said yesterday.

"The rest of us pay taxes to the government. We're looking for them to take some action."

Anti-poverty activists, including Moxley, gathered yesterday to talk to newly minted Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil, who says finding ways to fight poverty should be one of the province's priority issues.

McNeil hopes to push government to set up a poverty reduction committee, with people from different government departments and advocates who work with the poor.

"We need to tell government the issue of poverty is important. It's on the front burner," McNeil said. "Government can come out and tell you this is the way they're going to fight poverty. I'll be happy to let them take credit."

He's asking Premier Rodney MacDonald's government to let people on social assistance earn up to $3,000 without having their benefits clawed back.

Currently, 70 per cent of any wages people make while on social assistance is taken off their welfare cheques.

He'd also like Nova Scotia Legal Aid expanded to deal with landlord-tenant and energy cases; have the province build more small-options homes for the disabled; and allow more people to attend university while getting social assistance.

McNeil said the committee would also look into raising minimum wage in the province. Someone working full-time at minimum wage would make $14,000 a year.

Moxley said during her seven years at St. Mark's, she saw a lot of young women struggling to get out of poverty, and elderly people going to church suppers because they could not afford a meal.

"I don't think there's many people who are able to get out (of poverty). Lots of them would love to get out, but as soon as they make a move to try to get some work, they lose, because it all gets cut back," Moxley said.

She said letting people make some money on social assistance, or letting them go to school and keep welfare benefits, would help.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Edwards downplays time at hedge fund

from The Seattle Post Intelligencer


DES MOINES, Iowa -- Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards argued on Tuesday that his work for a hedge fund shouldn't overshadow his efforts on poverty and other issues after the 2004 campaign.

"If you look at what I've done since the last election, it is true that I did consulting work for a hedge fund, part time," Edwards told The Associated Press in a brief interview. "It's also true that I started a poverty center at the University of North Carolina, that I led minimum wage initiatives in six states - all successful - that I started a college-for-everyone program for poor communities in eastern North Carolina, that I helped organize thousands of workers into unions, that I did humanitarian work in Africa."

Edwards, the Democrats' 2004 vice presidential nominee, again declined to say how much money he was paid for his yearlong position with the New York-based Fortress Investment Group. "It will come out when the disclosure comes out," Edwards said, referring to financial reports due Tuesday.

Last week, in an interview with the AP, Edwards said he worked for a hedge fund between presidential campaigns to learn about financial markets and their relationship to poverty - and to make money too.

Fortress reported assets of about $35.1 billion as of Dec. 31, 2006. Hedge funds, now numbering more than 9,000 in the U.S. with assets estimated to exceed $1 trillion, traditionally cater to the rich, as well as pension funds and university endowments, but are increasingly luring less wealthy investors.

Edwards said his work at Fortress should be put into context with the anti-poverty work he's undertaken since he and John Kerry made a failed run for the White House.

"If you look at all the things I've done since the last election, it's pretty clear where my commitment is," he said.

Edwards was in Iowa to announce the support of 1,500 women caucus-goers. In the interview, Edwards said the experience he gained in the 2004 Iowa caucuses have taught him the need for a grass-roots organization in the state.

"I can tell you I've been through this," he said. "I'm experienced and seasoned at what it takes to organize in Iowa."

Although his main Democratic rivals, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, draw larger crowds, Edwards said is focused more on organizing. Such work paid off in a surprising second-place showing in Iowa in 2004 and will pay dividends again, he said.

Only about 100,000 Democratic activists will likely show up to decide the caucuses on Jan. 14, and most will have met at least one of the candidates. Edwards said the comfort level he's built with activists over the years is a distinct advantage.

"I think the importance of it is that people in Iowa - caucus-goers - feel like they know me, they know Elizabeth," said Edwards. "That comfort level makes it easier for them to hear what you want to do as president. It doesn't yet mean they are for you, but it means they are more receptive to what you have to say."

Tuesday's visit was Edwards' 23rd to Iowa since the 2004 election.

NEPAL: No let-up for the rural poor

from Reuters Alert Net

ACCHAM, (IRIN) - Basanti Sunar and her family have spent most of their lives migrating to work in India as labourers. Recently, however, they decided to stay in their remote Mastamandu village of Accham district in western Nepal, hoping that the end of the decade-long conflict between the state and Maoist rebels would bring development to her village.

But now they regret that.

"We thought the peace would relieve us of our poor situation, but we have become more impoverished," said 25-year old Sunar, who now works at a stone quarry for a daily wage of US$1.

"This new government has failed us as well. There is no hope left for poor families like us," said Sunar as she ground the stones while breastfeeding her 18-month old son and carrying her two-year old daughter on her back.

According to the government's Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), Nepal is one of the least developed countries with a per capita GDP of $311.

Nepal's poverty is marked by unequal distribution of land, huge gaps between urban rich and rural poor, poor education, weak health systems, poor infrastructure, high levels of unemployment, and severe malnutrition in many parts of the country, specialists say.

The Nepal Living Standards Survey of the World Bank and the CBS have concluded that 31 percent of the country's population live below the national poverty line.

Extreme poverty

In Accham's remote villages, peace has made no difference to poor villagers who continue to suffer extreme poverty with no regular source of income, unemployment, low food production and, above all, lack of support from the government.

According to aid workers, neglect of rural communities is rising.

"The government and national political parties are too focused on politics and fighting for power, while people continue to suffer from extreme poverty," said development worker Rupa Auji from Gangotri Rural Development Forum (GRDF), a local NGO helping local communities to generate income.

Only a handful of NGOs are working in remote areas but they are also under-funded and cannot reach many poverty-stricken families.

No food, education

"I can't even afford to feed my children. You can see how poor we are if my children can't even go to school," said 35-year old Shanti Bhul, who sold her only remaining property, a small plot of farmland, and now has to work at the local stone quarry despite poor health. Her underage children also have to help boost her family income.

"There is no freedom from poverty no matter who runs this country," said another poverty-stricken villager, Lalit Tamata, whose family became further impoverished when they returned to their country with the same hopes as many other migrant workers. Tamata said a lot of families had lost their land to the former Maoist rebels who are refusing to return it. "Our hope is that this government show some concern for its impoverished citizens," he said.

Slowdown in humanitarian work

Aid agencies are concerned that development is still not getting adequate attention from politicians. The country's political scene is dominated by eight national parties, including the Maoists.

"There has been a slowdown in humanitarian work. The decision-making process is very slow and the administration too political," Joerg Frieden, country representative of the Swiss Development Cooperation (SDC), told IRIN.

"There is a really important need to establish an effective government administration so that things can really be done in the next two years of political transition," Frieden added.

Pro-malaria forces resurface at WHO

from Canada Free Press

By Paul Driessen & Cyril Boynes, Jr.

Proposals to ban life-saving chemicals would cost countless lives

The World Health Organization intends to phase out chemotherapy drugs, due to concerns about their health effects, WHO Public Health and Environment director Dr. Maria Neira announced recently. Those effects include anemia, diarrhea, reduced resistance to infection, potential birth defects and hair loss.

"These drugs save lives, but they are dangerous," she stated. "WHO is determined to end their use, motivate researchers to develop safer cancer treatments, and emphasize acceptable alternatives, like broccoli."

Imagine the shock and outrage that would follow such an announcement. Europe and the United States would demand her ouster and threaten to slash WHO's budget, if it tried such a thing.

But of course Dr. Neira and WHO made no such proposal. Instead, she and her co-conspirators are promoting something even more irresponsible – and deadly. They want to reverse the September 2006 decision to restore DDT to the Organization's malaria-fighting arsenal.

"WHO is concerned about health effects associated with DDT," she said during a recent conference in Dakar, Senegal. Her position, not the September decision, represents WHO's position regarding DDT for malaria control and its commitment to phasing the chemical out, she asserted.

Dr. Arata Kochi, director of WHO's malaria division, made his decision based on decades of evidence, and because he recognized that no other chemical in existence, at any price, does what DDT does.

Sprayed just once or twice a year on the walls of houses, this powerful repellant keeps most mosquitoes from entering; irritates those that do come in, so they don't bite; and kills any that land. Used this way, DDT can reduce malaria rates by 75% – and it is perfectly safe for people and the environment.

In effect, DDT places a huge bednet over the entire house. From dusk to dawn, it protects the inhabitants, whether they are sleeping or doing housework and homework.

The US Agency for International Development also reversed its policies and redeployed DDT. And European Commission President Barroso wrote that the EU recognizes and supports the right of countries to use DDT, under Stockholm Convention and WHO guidelines.

Fed up with the sickness and death, African countries are again using DDT and other sprays, not just to stabilize or "roll back" malaria, but to eradicate it.

Dr. Neira and her colleagues, however, appear wedded to the disastrous policies that kept malaria at unconscionable levels: 400 million cases and up to 2 million deaths a year – half of them children. They continue to oppose insecticides, especially DDT, and insist that bednets, drugs, education and other "acceptable," non-chemical interventions will suffice.

These other interventions are also essential. But they are not enough to end malaria's reign of terror.

The nasty effects of chemo drugs are real. The alleged risks of using DDT are pure speculation. They are trumpeted by radical groups like Pesticide Action Network, who insist: Some researchers think DDT could be inhibiting lactation and might be related to premature births, low birth weights and slow reflexes in babies.

These risks are unproven and trivial, compared to the undeniable risks that DDT can prevent.

"Millions cannot work or go to school for weeks every year because of malaria," Uganda's Fiona Kobusingye points out. "Countless people die. Mothers have anemia, premature births and tiny babies because of it. Parents and children get severe permanent brain damage from it. And many people die from HIV/AIDS and other diseases that are made worse by malaria."

Anti-pesticide activists claim Mexico "greatly reduced malaria without using DDT," by employing politically correct alternatives to insecticides. They deliberately ignore two critical points.
# According to the Pan American Health Organization, Mexico had a mere 3,400 cases of malaria in 2004. In Kenya that year, 34,000 people died from malaria! In Nigeria, 58,000 parents and children died; in Uganda, 100,000.
# Mexico's real weapon is drugs. To treat those 3,400 cases, it dispensed 10.3 million Chloroquine, Amodiaquine and Primaquine tablets! These powerful drugs can cause genetic mutations and physical defects in fetuses. They also carry high risks that the malaria parasites will become resistant to the drugs.

To say this is preferable to DDT is preposterous. It is medical malpractice.

No wonder people have called anti-insecticide policies "eco-imperialism," "eco-manslaughter," "neo-colonialism" and "racist experiments" on the world's poor.

No wonder they ask whether anti-insecticide policies are driven in part by neo-Malthusian eugenics theorists like Paul Ehrlich, who wrote in The Population Bomb that "exported death control," in the form of DDT and other technologies that prevent disease and death, is a major cause of "over-population."

Club of Rome founder Alexander King said, "My chief quarrel with DDT in hindsight is that it greatly added to the population problem." And oceanographer Jacques Cousteau told Novelle Observateur, "In order to stabilize world populations, we must eliminate 350,000 people a day."

Whether such obscene attitudes are at the root of anti-insecticide policies is somewhat beside the point, however. The reality is that those policies perpetuate disease, poverty and death.

"We continue to squander resources on half-measures, when we could use proven, effective tools," says, African Union disease control coordinator John Kabayo. "Bed nets are meaningless in societies that have no beds. To totally and predictably eradicate malaria, we need a combination of tools and strategies, applied in a dedicated program of systematic military-style operations. Bed nets on their own will, at best, only divert resources and prolong the misery perpetrated by this needless disease."

Under the Stockholm Convention, whether to use insecticides or spatial repellants like DDT is a decision for health ministers in countries that face endemic and epidemic malaria. Bureaucrats in malaria-free Geneva offices have no right to deny them to malaria victims.

WHO legitimately worries about obesity, cancer and smoking. But malaria is one of the world's most critical healthcare issues. It should also be one of the easiest to control, and even eradicate.

WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan needs to give her unqualified support to Dr. Kochi – and let Dr. Neira know she must put people's lives first, and stop undermining agency policies, or find other employment. Returning to the lethal policies of recent years would be unforgivable.

Cyril Boynes is CORE's director of international affairs and Honorary Consul General of Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom of Uganda to the Americas.

International Observers See Poverty as Major Election Issue

from Bulatlat


TONDO, MANILA ― Foreign observers monitoring the poll count in Tondo, one of the most congested cities in the world, have repeatedly been reminded of how poverty influences the attitudes of urban poor Filipinos towards the elections.

The Peoples’ International Observers Mission (Peoples’ IOM) team visiting Tondo in Metro Manila today noted that the current economic situation and the worsening degree of poverty were among the main issues that voters were concerned about.

Led by Canadian journalist Stefan Christoff, the Tondo-based team visited urban poor communities in Barangay Isla Puting Bato and Katuparan Homes in Vitas, as well as the voting centers in Magat Salamat Elementary School, Manuel L Quezon Elementary School, and H. Atienza School in Tondo district to look into reports of multiple voting irregularities and voter disenfranchisement.

With 268 barangays and a total population of around 589,644 in 2000, Tondo harbors one of the largest concentrations of households and urban poor communities in the National Capital Region of the Philippines.
Representatives of the IOM took in the conditions of extreme poverty within the districts and interviewed multiple community residents who hoped to participate in the electoral process to elect a new government who would tend to the conditions of extreme poverty, Christoff noted.

In discussions with voters concerning the mid-term elections, most expressed various opinions on the important political issues that were at stake during this election.

In particular, voters expressed frustration on the growing poverty within the Tondo district of Manila.
"Bumoto kami pero hindi kami umaasa na gaganda ang buhay namin pagkatapos ng eleksyon. Ang sigurado lang kami ay demolisyon pa rin ang haharapin namin pagkatapos ng eleksyon," Christoff quotes one voter as saying. (We voted but we are not very optimistic that our lives will be better after the elections. For sure, we will continue to face the threat of demolition after the elections.)

Majority of Tondo residents are migrants from other provinces who are mostly unemployed or eking out a living as port workers, ambulant market vendors, tricycle and pedicab drivers, and garlic peelers. Many of Tondo’s communities living within the vicinity of reclamation areas and government projects are often in danger of having their makeshift homes demolished.

"We are poor and getting poorer. Despite our situation the Arroyo government is doing nothing to change our situation, so we hope to see a change of government," Christoff quotes one voter as saying.

Whoever wins, the people of Tondo are somewhat frustrated that no one is doing enough to stop the intensifying poverty and demolition of urban poor communities in Metro Manila, Christoff said.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Quarter of Northern Ireland children 'living in poverty'

from Ireland Com

More than 100,000 children in Northern Ireland - one in four - are living in poverty, according to figures released by Save the Children today.

The children's charity called on First Minister the Rev Ian Paisley and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness to make eradication of child poverty one of the key priorities of the new Executive.

The call was made in Save the Children's first annual report on the state of child poverty in Northern Ireland - A 2020 Vision - announced at Clifton House, Belfast's former Poor House.

Alex Tennant, a researcher with the charity, said: "The eradication of child poverty should be the priority goal of the new Assembly, transforming society, making it a better, fairer, safer place for our children, and for all of us.

It was estimated that there were 130,000 children in poverty in Northern Ireland in 1999 - now reduced to 100,000 - and that it should be cut to 65,000 by 2010. That means action is needed to take 35,000 children out of poverty in the next three years if the 2010 transitional target is to be reached.

The Save the Children report said the restoration of the Assembly, coupled with the main parties' commitment to tackling the issue, had created positive conditions for progress.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Catholic Foundation takes aim at student poverty

from Kingston This Week

Lynn Rees Lambert

You cannot learn if you’re hungry. Neither can you learn if you can’t read the board.

For these reasons, and others related to poverty, the Catholic school board has taken a hard look at the mandate of its fundraising foundation and changed its focus. They’ve decided to take direct aim at reducing child poverty and have created an Emergency Response Fund.

“I’ve been in education for 29 years and I’ve seen the face of poverty in each of those 29 years,” says Michael Schmitt, the director of education for the Algonquin and Lakeshore Catholic District School Board.

The foundation, which has been in existence for about five years, covered a number of areas, the director explains, mainly supporting arts, literacy and numeracy programs.

But it was a hard sell, he admits.

“It was difficult to engage the public for support when many believed these areas should be covered through government grants.”

This type of fundraising was also a bit of stretch, considering “every principal can identify a need for eyeglasses, an EpiPen or sometimes even clothing.”

And every principal and teacher is well aware that poor children face the greatest risk of health problems and difficulties in school.

With this in mind, Schmitt led the campaign to relaunch the foundation, with no paid staff, and start tackling basic necessities that some children lack.

Response was excellent, he says, noting that support has come straight away from the trustees, the principals, the staff, the Archdiocese, the schools and the students.

“This is in line with the teachings of the church, that we do our best to alleviate poverty,” Schmitt adds.

An Emergency Response Fund, with a reserve of about $10,000, will provide funds to support children and families in crisis. The request could handle anything from food to medical supplies, clothing or transportation.

“Every family situation is different,” Schmitt points out, but the needs are acute.

It’s already been tried and tested.

“We launched it on May 1 and we received our first request from a principal for eyeglasses for a student,” says Schmitt.

The request was approved and the cheque written.

And money is still coming in from the schools who participated in the Toonie Tuesday event May 1.

Monday, May 07, 2007

On poverty, Edwards faces old hurdles

from MSNBC

By Alec MacGillis

ALLENDALE, S.C. - His rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination were busy April 26 preparing for their first televised debate, but John Edwards was 45 miles south, strolling along a dirt road in this struggling town in South Carolina's Low Country to chat with what few people he could find among the many abandoned houses.

"We've got 37 million people who wake up every day in poverty," he declared moments later to residents gathered outside a local church, under the shade of a giant live oak. "This is not okay, not in the richest country on the planet."

As he makes his second bid for the White House, the former senator from North Carolina is sounding a clarion call of a sort not heard on the presidential campaign trail since Robert F. Kennedy's run in 1968. A millworker's son who became a multimillionaire trial lawyer, Edwards brings to the subject a hard-edged rhetoric and a host of proposals culled from the University of North Carolina's poverty center, which he started and ran after his losing campaign for vice president in 2004.

Advocates and researchers praise Edwards for focusing on an issue they say too many have shied from over the years. "It's so refreshing," said Peter Edelman, a former aide to Kennedy who quit the Clinton administration in protest over its welfare overhaul and now teaches at Georgetown Law School. "It's a wake-up call for a lot of people in this country."

But Edwards's plan to "end poverty in 30 years" also underscores the challenges of tackling poverty in the political arena, of the intractability of the problem and of the seeming timelessness of the debates over solving it.

Edwards dedicated himself to the subject for two years, effectively making it his part-time job and part of the record on which voters will judge him, and yet he said in an interview that his time at the UNC center did not reshape his thinking on poverty. The platform he has produced, while lengthier than his rivals', consists primarily of ideas that have been percolating in the academy for years and are shared by some other candidates, such as creating publicly subsidized temporary jobs, expanding the earned-income tax credit and easing college affordability.

If there is a personal imprint on Edwards's plan, it is his argument for reducing racial and economic segregation — that, as he put it in one speech, "if we truly believe that we are all equal, then we should live together, too." To achieve this, Edwards proposes doing away with public housing projects and replacing them with 1 million rental vouchers, to disperse the poor into better neighborhoods and suburbs, closer to good schools and jobs.

The idea sounds bold, but it faces a deflating reality: A major federal experiment conducted for more than a decade has found that dispersing poor families with vouchers does not improve earnings or school performance, leaving some economists puzzled that Edwards would make such dispersal a centerpiece of his anti-poverty program. Edwards said he was unaware of the experiment.

"The Edwards proposal is a good idea, but I don't think it's likely to accomplish the primary aim he intends," said Jeffrey Kling, a Brookings Institution economist who has studied the experiment.

Missing from Edwards's approach, some thinkers on the subject say, is the same crucial component lacking in past proposals: a way of framing the problem that can inspire political will to help a segment of society that tends not to vote.

Margy Waller, a policy adviser in the Clinton administration, said that because so many Americans believe poverty results from bad personal decisions, it is better to address it in broader terms of improving social cohesion, reducing inequality and strengthening the economy, instead of focusing on "poverty."

That is how Prime Minister Tony Blair has sold his anti-poverty plan in Britain, she said, and she is surprised that Edwards has not framed his proposals that way, since there is so much research showing that the public's views are a hurdle. She worries that it will be hard for Edwards to get elected, much less implement his plans, with his current rhetoric.

"We don't need new policy. We have plenty of policy," said Waller, now part of a Washington think tank called Inclusion. "It's just that no one's helping us move it."

Rural families struggling below poverty line: Murphy

from The Amherst Daily News

The Amherst Daily News

AMHERST – Sharon Murphy and Liz Cooke-Sumbu, with the Poverty Action Committee, recently made a presentation to the Canadian Senate in Ottawa on rural poverty.

"In Cumberland County there are 1,350 families living below the low-income cut off. In Nova Scotia, two thirds of people on social assistance live in rural areas," said Murphy.

During her report Murphy stressed to politicians the importance of taking those two statistics into consideration when developing policies.

Murphy feels there are several disincentives to people on social assistance that make it difficult for them to become gainfully employed.

"Families need quality, affordable child care. They need jobs that pay more than minimum wage. They need insurance to cover the cost of medications," said Murphy.

Murphy says increased property assessments combined with higher energy costs make it difficult for families to make ends meet.

Murphy also spoke about the plight of single mothers whose children go without milk and other nutritious foods because they can buy other food for less.

As a result she says families live on diets high in empty calories and eventually develop health problems.

The mentally ill are also affected in particular, having to face the double stigma of poverty and mental illness. They too, struggle to pay for medications and find jobs with benefits.

Murphy says she hopes the government will take a more co-ordinated approach to poverty that involves more strategic planning involving the ideas of everyone, including those living in poverty.

ADB urged to 'gear up' to fight poverty in communist North Korea

from Mainichi Daily News

KYOTO, Japan -- South Korea urged the Asian Development Bank on Sunday to consider communist North Korea a future client and start preparing to fight poverty in the isolated, desperately poor nation.

"With positive developments being made on the (North Korean) nuclear issue, I can envisage the international community's response to North Korea cautiously, but significantly improving," Kwon O-kyu, South Korea's governor to the ADB, said during the development bank's annual meeting in Kyoto.

"In this regard, I suggest that the ADB gear itself up to supporting the reform efforts of potential future clients like (North Korea), when conditions mature," he said.

After a several-year standoff with the United States and neighboring nations over its nuclear weapons program, North Korea pledged in February to shut down its only operating nuclear reactor by mid-April in return for aid and other political concessions.

However, it has refused so far to act until it receives US$25 million (?18.4 million) in funds frozen in a Macau bank, Banco Delta Asia. The U.S. and Banco Delta Asia have said that the North's funds -- frozen because of alleged links to money laundering and counterfeiting of US$100 bills -- are now free for withdrawal.

But for unknown reasons, North Korea has yet to take the money.

On Saturday, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso was quoted by Kyodo News agency as saying international talks on ending the nuclear stalemate could resume as early as next week if the frozen funds issue is resolved.

North Korea is one of Asia's poorest countries, but is not a member of the 67-member Asian Development Bank, which was founded in 1966 to fight regional poverty through economic development.

In recent years, North Korea has taken tentative steps toward reforms in an attempt to help its moribund economy. But the dispute over its nuclear programs has stymied any major breakthroughs.

Kwon said inaction over North Korea's isolation and poverty would only "increase the risk that this reclusive country can pose to the world economy."

Keenan potraits poverty through concert

from Antara

Poverty which is still rampant in Indonesia, is now displayed in a concert of portraits entitled "Nuansa Bening", which literally means clear nuance, by Keenan Nasution, noted musician, composer and legendary singer, in Jakarta.

Keenan sang his new song "Apa Yang Telah Kau Buat?" (what have your done?) to thousands of spectators in Nusa Indah Theatre at Balai Kartini on Saturday evening.

The musical performance was highlighted with a display of portraits of top Indonesian leaders starting from the first president, Soekarno, and ended with incumbent President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

At each of the portraits was accompanied by photos of street children, street vendors and jobless people, implying that poverty still prevails in the country although six presidents have led the nation.

Keenan practically said nothing before and after singing his new song, except that the song is included in his new album, which will be released soon.

The two-hour concert was attended by some other artists like Marcell, Nugie, Indro Harjodikoro, Trio Agus Wisman, Rita Effendy, Yana Yulio, Gilang Ramadhan, and Deril, Keenan`s son.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Development Organizations Say Asia Could Wipe Out Extreme Poverty

from Voice of America

By Claudia Blume

Two new reports by international financial institutions say extreme poverty could be eliminated in Asia by the year 2020. Claudia Blume in Hong Kong looks at the reasons for the optimism, and the challenges that remain.

Asia is home to two-thirds of the world's poor. Every fifth person in the region lives in extreme poverty - commonly measured as income below one dollar a day. In India, Bangladesh and Cambodia, more than 30 percent live below the poverty line.

But the region has made enormous progress in the past two decades. Although 35 percent of Asians lived below the poverty line in 1990, the figure dropped to 19 percent in 2003. Developing countries in East Asia were most successful, with the rate dropping from 29 percent to just eight percent in the same period.

The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific says China alone moved 150 million people out of poverty in the past decade.

Ravi Ratnayake, director of UNESCAP's trade and investment division, says the region's economic growth is the most important reason poverty rates are dropping.

"The region as a whole recorded 7.9 percent GDP [gross domestic product] growth in 2006 and [in] China, GDP growth has over the past few years been over nine percent to about 10 percent, and similarly in India nine percent," said Ratnayake. "So many countries in the region are doing really well in terms of economic growth and obviously some benefits of the economic growth are going to poor people in the poor communities."

There are other factors. Shiladitya Chatterjee, head of the Asian Development Bank's poverty unit, says limiting population growth can play an important role.

"The countries which have been successful in reducing population growth, for example, have succeeded better than others," said Chatterjee. "For example, China, Indonesia has done that. And they have seen very fast reduction in poverty compared to, let's say, India."

Chatterjee says in some countries that have seen rapid population growth, such as Bangladesh, there has been an increase in the absolute number of poor people - even though the proportion living in poverty declined.

Chatterjee also says that being poor is not just a matter of having a low income. It can mean a lack of access to services - such as education, health, sanitation and water - and a lack of political participation. In this respect, Asia's track record has not been so positive.

"While Asia's record in income poverty has been remarkable and extraordinary, our record in terms of non-income poverty, while it has been good, has not been as impressive," said Chatterjee. "There are still large numbers of people living with major deprivations, human deprivations, and we are concerned that we are not making as much progress."

In some countries, the benefits of economic growth have not reached the poorest people. Inequality remains a major problem, particularly the growing income gap between urban and rural populations.

Poverty experts, such as UNESCAP's Ratnayake, say governments need to make sure the poor enjoy the benefits of growing economies.

"We need to look at not only the pace of economic growth but also the pattern of economic growth so that [the] poor proportion of the population [is] getting more than [the] non-poor proportion of the population from [the] high economic growth in these countries," said Ratnayake.

He says overall the region is moving in the right direction, with countries such as China and Vietnam introducing successful poverty-reduction programs.

A recent report by the Asian Development Bank predicts that extreme poverty could be eliminated in Asia by 2020. The non-profit lender also expects several countries in the region to become donors to their poorer neighbors - something China has already started to do.

South Asia faces a bigger challenge, but a separate report by the World Bank says the region has a chance of attaining single-digit poverty rates within a generation. Shekhar Shah is economic adviser for the World Bank's South Asia region.

"Now you ask - how can we make such a claim or put forward such an ambitious proposal," said Shah. "I think for a variety of reasons, but principally because economic growth is creating a political space for much-needed policy and institutional reforms, both to accelerate this growth and to sustain it and then going on from there to be able to tackle the other aspects of poverty and deprivation in South Asia."

Poverty experts agree that the region needs to accelerate and sustain economic growth to further reduce poverty. But this alone is not enough. Challenges remain.

Experts say inequality in growth must be addressed, particularly the issue of lagging sectors such as agriculture, and the poorest regions, such as India's state of Bihar. Countries need to expand opportunities for the poor - for example through better regulation of labor markets and the creation of jobs for the rapidly growing labor force in many countries.

There are also continuing challenges of human development - such as providing adequate health care and education. Shah of the World Bank notes that poor governance, corruption and conflict also hurt anti-poverty efforts.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Driven by poverty, China's coal miners risk all

from The Asia Times

By Candy Zeng

SHENZHEN - China's rate of fatalities per ton of coal mined in 2005 was 70 times as bad as in the United States and seven times as high as in Russia or India. The Chinese government renews its efforts to curb fatal coal-mine accidents every year, but in vain. So why do Chinese keep going down in the mines?

In March 2005, 10 undergraduate students of Hunan Normal University began a survey on the coal miners in Hunan, a coal-producing province in central China, to find out why. They were motivated by ceaseless reports of coal-mine accidents, which drove them to know more about that special group: coal miners who risk their lives every day deep underground.

Coal-mine accidents killed 4,746 people in China in 2006. Already this year, from March 1 to April 19, 204 people were killed or missing in mine accidents, Li Yizhong, minister in charge of the State Administration of Work Safety, said at a recent national meeting on coal-mine and gas management in Chongqing municipality in southwestern China.

Quite a few of the interviewees, who earn only 1,000-2,000 yuan (US$130-260) monthly with barely any other benefits, said they were content with their current position. As to possible fatal accidents underground, many just shrugged off questions from the students, saying they were used to accidents.

"Injury or death is inevitable to us miners. It is just a matter of luck and whose turn it is. As time passes by, I have nothing on my mind but digging out more coal to get more money," coal miner Xiao Zhihai, 47, told the student investigators, China Youth Daily reported.

Cao Yu, one of the survey initiators, wrote in his blog: "Life or money? It seems a dilemma to people who have to work at the risk of life, but the answers given out by those miners are too simple to believe."

For two years, his team interviewed 545 workers in privately owned mines across Hunan province. "As coal mines are quite similar in China, I think the workers' conditions in Hunan reflect the whole picture of China," Cao wrote in an introduction to the survey on his blog.

"With the help of local miners, we visited more than 30 mines in four cities or counties. We have been expelled, threatened and even detained by mine owners and had out cameras confiscated. But we didn't give up, holding the belief that the country and the society are on our side," he wrote.

The 20,000-character report, "On Factors Affecting Psychological Safety of Human Miners and Strategies for Improvement", caught the attention of a political adviser to the government and was finally sent to the desk of Li Yizhong, the country's top work-safety official, in March.

The research indicates that most miners have a family of four or more members. They have to work underground for six, seven or even more than 10 hours every day. Some of them also have to farm while working for the mines.

The miners are content with the risky work because of the relatively high payment of 2,000 yuan each month, which is equivalent to the earnings of six months or even a whole year for a typical farmer.

They are upset with accidents not only because they take the lives of their co-workers but also because they halt production and reduce income.

The financial burden, or rather the instinct of survival, is not the only reason driving them underground. The survey shows that most of the workers are poorly educated and low-skilled. They have no other choices to make a better living.

According to the survey, 82% of the miners interviewed have less than a high-school education, 62% have no occupational skills, and 48% cannot find other jobs.

Some of them are illiterate, who can't write their names and have to press a fingerprint on to the payroll. The world outside the coal fields seems unknown to many of them. Some have no idea of what a cinema or car is. When asked for a comment on his current job, a 22-year-old worker said everything is fine as long as the country is still ruled by Chairman Mao, referring to the Communist Party leader Mao Zedong who died in 1976.

What disturbs the workers more may be the compensation-distribution system, which 52.6% of the workers regard as "unfair". Most frequently, the mine owners cash in tens of thousands or even millions of yuan annually, while the less-at-risk management staff earn double the monthly income of the workers.
The higher class is not at ease with the situation, either. A mine manager said he always fears that a simple-minded worker will do something stupid at the expense of his life. "The new Audi bought by our boss was scratched by somebody a couple of days ago, and other managers here were in fear," said the manager, surnamed Yang.

Strained labor relations were a result of abuse of workers' rights by owners and evasion of obligations in the colliery industry. Among the interviewed workers, 72% didn't sign an employment contract, 53% were not paid for overtime, and 47% were not covered by social insurance and work-injury insurance.

For historical reasons, the workers are divided into "formal" workers and farmers-turned-workers, with the latter allowed lower pay and benefits. As many as 89% of the farmer-workers are not included in any social-insurance or work-injury-insurance schemes.

Li Chengyu, governor of Henan, China's most populous province, openly criticized county and township officials who failed to supervise the mines for fear that the closures would dent local GDP (gross domestic product) growth and government revenue.

In China, there were 23 million farmers earning less than the poverty-line standard of 683 yuan per head annually and 41 million earning an annual income ranged from 686-944 yuan in 2005. If calculated by the United Nations poverty standard of $1 per day, the impoverished population in China amounted to 212 million in 2001, accounting for 16.6% of the total population. The poverty rate was reduced to 10% in 2004, with the total ranking second-largest in the world after India, according to the UN standard.

Despite China's obvious achievements in countering poverty in general, a bitter fact emerges that the earning growth of the low-income group lagged behind the high-income group in recent years, according to Professor Zheng Bingwen of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), a researcher on Latin America.

"In Latin America, the poverty rates were rising, while the GDP per capita climbed to $3,000. It sets an alarm for China to prevent enlarged poverty during economic growth," said Zheng. Poverty and inequality in different regions and different groups of people will have negative impact on China's social development, he said.

Candy Zeng is a freelance journalist based in Shenzhen.