Tuesday, January 31, 2006

[Vietnam] Poverty reduction in underprivileged regions will be prioritised

from the Viet Nam News Agency

Ha Noi, (VNA) - The National Programme on Hunger Elimination and Poverty Reduction in the 2006-2010 period should give priority to disadvantaged communes with high poverty rates, said Minister of Labour, War Invalids and Social Affairs Nguyen Thi Hang.

The Prime Minister has approved an investment of 60-62 trillion VND in the period to create a breakthrough in poverty reduction, striving to decrease the number of poor households in the country to 15 percent by 2010 (equivalent to 23 percent under the new poverty standard). Poor households who have no land or no productive land will be provided with land or suitable jobs. It is expected that the programme will give accommodation support to around 500,000 poor households.

In the next five years, the Government will give 26 trillion VND worth of soft loans to poor households with interest rates 25-30 percent lower than the market rate.

To avoid relapses into poverty, the Ministry of Labour, War Invalids and Social Affairs (MoLISA) will give people preferential policies on credit, argo-forestry-fishery encouragement, healthcare, education and vocational training within the first two years of a commune's removal from poverty status.

Communes that are removed from the underprivileged commune list will receive funds of 500 million VND each to build and repair essential works.

The ministry will support vocational training centres and enterprises that receive poor employees.

The State will create opportunities for poor people to access necessary social services such as safe water and free health examinations and treatment and provide learning tools and fees for disabled and ethnic minority children.

The National Programme on Poverty Reduction in the 2001-2005 period exceeded the schedule by one year, said Minister Hang. The rate of poor households in Viet Nam stood at over 8 percent in 2004 (under the old poverty standard) while the figure was set at under 10 percent by 2005 in the resolutions of the ninth Party Congress.

Poor people have more chances to access production and living services such as credit loans, animal husbandry and cultivation techniques, infrastructure facilities, accommodation assistance and basic social services like healthcare, education, safe water, broadcasting and television programmes.

The total investment mobilised for poverty reduction programmes, including the National Poverty Reduction and Job Creation Programme (Programme 143), the Socio-economic Development Programme in underprivileged communes (Programme 135) and other international projects in the 2001-2005 period was nearly 41 trillion VND (2.6 billion USD)

Monday, January 30, 2006

[UK] Fuel poverty to increase in 2006

from The BBC

A sharp rise in energy bills in 2006 could force an extra 250,000 households into fuel poverty, the energy price comparison website uSwitch has warned.
uSwitch based its calculation on British Gas raising prices by a widely predicted 15% in 2006.

Households which spend more than 10% of their income on heating and power are deemed to be in fuel poverty.

According to the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), 1.5 million UK homes currently suffer fuel poverty.

Last June, British Gas warned customers to expect price hikes in 2006 because of rises in the wholesale cost of gas and electricity.

Since then a host of gas and electricity companies have raised their prices.

uSwitch said higher energy costs made it "highly unlikely" that the government would succeed in its objective of ending fuel poverty by 2016.

"It is a worrying time for vulnerable customers, with record price hikes expected to be announced and a colder-than-average winter forecast," Ann Robinson, director of consumer policy at uSwitch, said.

"We are increasingly aware that more vulnerable customers are at grave risk of falling into fuel poverty," Ms Robinson added.

[Iraq] Government announces plan to fight poverty, create jobs

From Reuters Alert Net

BAGHDAD, (IRIN) - In response to a study released last week revealing an increase in poverty levels by 30 percent since the US-led invasion in April 2003, the government said it was developing plans to combat the problem.

"We've begun studying ways to reduce poverty," said Sinan Youssef, a senior official in the strategy department of the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, which conducted the study. "The main focus will be on increasing employment rather than giving money to support families."

On 24 January, ministry officials pointed out that more than two million Iraqis faced difficulty finding food and shelter on a daily basis. The daily income for these families was estimated at under US $2 dollars per day.

"After studies undertaken in the past six months, we found that 20 percent of all Iraqis live in poverty, with five percent of these facing deteriorating conditions," said Amina Khaldun, a senior ministry official.

"The shutdown of the public sector and difficulties accessing educational institutions has created this situation, but violence is also a factor," she added.

According to Youssef, emergency measures aimed at creating employment opportunities – particularly in the reconstruction sector – will begin in March.

"When the new government assumes power it will facilitate investment in Iraq like we're seeing in the south, where security is much better," he noted. "We'll demand that companies operating in Iraq employ Iraqis, and we'll give preference to companies offering more job opportunities."

"The government will also work to increase the quantity of items in monthly food rations to promote a healthier lifestyle," Youssef added.

Most low-income families participate in the government's monthly food programme, although officials concede that quantities provided are inadequate to feed big families.

"I can't get work because of my age and my only son died in the war, leaving three children who often go hungry because I can't afford supplies," complained Baghdad resident Baker Azize.

The anti-poverty drive is being planned and coordinated by the labour and social affairs ministry and parliament, along with recommendations from the US military.

[World Economic Forum] Leaders at Davos appeal for eradicating poverty in Africa

from New Kerala

Davos (Switzerland): Leading world figures at the World Economic Forum (WEF) here have stressed that the world should follow through on the "mountain of goodwill" generated last year towards the goal of eradicating poverty in Africa.

The panellists in the African development debate Friday said the top priorities for pragmatic action were: exposing corruption by both givers and recipients, investing heavily in primary education, and taking aim at the "sacred cows" of European, Japanese and American farm subsidies that make it impossible for African herders to compete.

Gordon Brown, Britain's chancellor of the exchequer, has been pushing for universal free primary education in Africa. But he also sought strong commitment from African leaders, saying "the real question is about empowerment and what Africa can do for itself".

One of the things Africa is showing it increasingly can do is to govern accountably, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo stressed.

"Not all our problems have disappeared, but last year elections took place in Liberia successfully, a change in government took place in Tanzania successfully, in Burundi and in Guinea Bissau too successfully. Wow. Twenty years ago that was unthinkable," Obasanjo said.

Yet good governance alone cannot eliminate poverty without strategic investments and fair trade, panellists agreed. And the three most vital investments, they said, must come "in capital infrastructure, physical infrastructure and human infrastructure".

Sunday, January 29, 2006

[Alabama] Poverty a problem in Pike County

from The Troy Messenger

By Matt Clower, The Messenger

According to a report issued this month by the Alabama Poverty Project, more than 20 percent of Pike County's population is living below the poverty line.

Pike County's poverty rates are higher than the average across the state. The report, which is based on numbers from the 2000 census, indicates 16.1 percent of the state's population lives under the poverty line. For, Pike County, the number is 23.1 percent, or 6,562 people, making it the 16th poorest county in the state.

The overall poorest county is Wilcox County, with 39.9 percent of the population in poverty. The wealthiest county in the state is Shelby County, with just 6.2 percent of the population impoverished.

Although the numbers are based on a six-year-old census, the figures still seem accurate compared to numbers obtained from the Pike County Department of Human Resources.

Florence Mitchell, DHR director, said the department currently serves 2, 775 households in Pike County, with 5, 360 individuals.

Mitchell said it was likely many more people in the county do live in poverty but simply do not seek government help.

“Some people don't want to come in and ask for assistance, they don't want the stigma of relying on assistance from the government,” Mitchell said.

Numbers of course, tell only part of the story. Its one thing to say there are thousands of people living in poverty in Pike County. Understanding the myriad of reasons why poverty happens is another matter. But one thing is certain, most cases of poverty are not caused people who don't want to work.

“Poverty is such a complex issue. You have so many factors that come in to play,” Mitchell said.

As DHR director, Mitchell said she sees numerous factors that contribute to people living in poverty.

“Lack of education, health issues. It's really such a minority who are actually not wanting to work,” Mitchell said.

In fact, according to the statics, many people living in poverty are actually unable to work, being either too young or too old to do so.

The Alabama Poverty Projects indicates that 2,129 living in poverty in Pike County are under the age of 18 and 808 people are over the age of 65.

Current numbers from the DHR actually indicate higher numbers, with 3,078 clients either under 18 or over the age 60-more than half of the total number of clients the department serves.

Mitchell said DHR most often deals with working poor- people who are employed, but not making enough to support their families, or in some cases multiple families living together.

Pike County is certainly not alone in its struggle with poverty. Pike County is a close neibhor to the Black Belt region, which by far bears the load of the state's poverty.

The majority of Pike County's neighbors have similar, if not worse, poverty levels. Barbour county has 26.8 percent poverty, Bullock county has 33.5 percent, and Crenshaw County has 22.1 percent.

Charlie Harris, chairman of the Pike County Commission, said he was initially surprised by the figures of Pike County's poverty. He said looking around the county, he did not see the evidence of poverty.

But Harris, who represents Brundidge, where the highest concentrations of poverty are, ultimately agreed the figures were an accurate picture of his district.

Harris also agreed that fighting poverty was something the County Commission could do, by continuing to work towards economic development.

“It all comes back to economic development,” Harris said. “We have to continue trying to bring in industries that are going to bring good jobs into the county,” Harris said.

County Administrator Harry Sanders noted that the report, based on the 2000 census, would not take into account new industries that have already opened in the county, like the Wal-Mart distribution center.

“Our unemployment rates are very positive right now, we are below the national average,” Sanders said.

But the specter of lost jobs still looms in Brundidge, which saw the Piknik food processing plant close last year followed by an announcement by Russell that the cutting plant will close within the next two years.

Therefore, in order for the county to have any resources to fight poverty, Sanders said economic development remains a priority for the county's leaders.

“In order for the county to continue to provide the citizens all the services that they need, it is important that we continue to word toward developing our economy,” Sanders said.

Both Harris and sanders feel positive a future census would reveal improvement in the economic situation of many citizens.

“There's already good things that have happened since 2000,” Harris said. “We just have to use that momentum to go forward.”

“I don''t think these number are indicative of a big problem, but a big opportunity to do more,” Sanders said.

[UK] 'Progress' in fight against poverty

From The Scotsman

Chancellor Gordon Brown said that real progress was being made in the fight to tackle poverty and disease in Africa.

Mr Brown dismissed claims that the G-8 group of industrialised nations was not delivering on promises made at the Gleneagles summit in July.
But he admitted there had been a failure over trade.

"We have got debt relief, it is 100 percent debt relief for the first batch of countries, it can go through to 38 countries, we want it to be 68 countries. But 170 billion dollars of debt have been written off -- this has never before happened in the history of the world."

Mr Brown pointed out that aid to Africa had increased dramatically since Gleneagles.

"We have got 15 countries to agree that they will move to 0.7 percent (of gross domestic product) on aid, so we have got a doubling of aid for Africa, we have got an education plan that is coming down the road which is primary schooling for every child by 2015 -- 110 million children who don't get education now," he said.

He said the failure over trade was not due to a lack of political will. A "new momentum" was needed for the World Trade Organisation talks, he said.

There was a general understanding that the deadlock had to be broken, he added, and called for the US and Europe to take the lead with a new proposal. He said it would need "the highest form of political leadership."

Brown also praised the 600 million dollar boost Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates gave to the Global Plan to Stop Tuberculosis. The campaign aims to treat 50 million people in the next 10 years.

Mr Brown said he hoped that in the next few years polio and tuberculosis would be eliminated and the world will be moving toward wiping out malaria and finding a cure for HIV/AIDS.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

[Afghanistan] Afghans optimistic, but poverty still grips Kabul

From Rueters Alert Net

By Robert Birsel

KABUL, Jan 27 (Reuters) - Afghans are among the most optimistic people in the world when it comes to their economic future, a BBC survey has found, but such confidence is not always easy to find on the streets of the capital, Kabul.

The survey found 70 percent of those questioned in Afghanistan thought their own circumstances were improving, and 57 percent believed their country overall was on the way up.

The survey by the Globescan polling firm also found optimism in Iraq, where 65 percent of people believed their personal lives were getting better, and 56 percent were upbeat about their country's economy.

The firm surveyed 37,572 people in 32 countries between October 2005 and January 2006, said the BBC, which released the results this week.

On the cold streets of an overcast Kabul on Friday opinion seemed divided about how people were faring more than four years after U.S.-led forces forced the hardline Taliban from power.

"It's not getting better for ordinary people, only for a few businessmen and investors. Ordinary people are getting poorer and poorer," said labourer Syed Kamal.

"Jobs are so few some people are willing to work just for bread," he said.

Prices have been rising fast in Kabul and many people say they are frustrated with what they see as a slow pace of improvement in their lives.

"Government figures show that billions of dollars of aid have been disbursed, but given the little change in the lives of many people, there hasn't been much improvement economically," said Kabul University student Izatullah, 25.

After decades of conflict and chaos, Afghanistan is wracked by poverty and deprivation.

Development will be a main issue at an international conference on Afghanistan in London at the end of the month, where Afghanistan is hoping to get promises of economic and security help.


Despite the poverty, Kabul's streets, lined with piles of dirty snow, are packed with vehicles and markets are full of imported goods.

Ahmad Sear, who owns a handicraft shop in a shiny new Kabul shopping centre, says life is good.

"My life has improved enormously over the past three years. I started from scratch and now I have this shop," he said.

The city's newest shopping centre is lined with electronics and mobile phone shops, as well as jewellery and clothes outlets. There's a trendy coffee shop in the basement and teenagers wander around in the latest Western fashions.

"I'm hopeful about the future although I worry about chaos and insecurity," Sear said.

"But it's tough for people who have no money or other resources. Refugees coming back from Iran and Pakistan, they've got no job, can't afford to pay rent, so they go back. That's not good," he said.

Complaints about corruption are common.

"Life has improved for only a few percent of the people. Most people are impoverished," said another city centre shopkeeper, Mohammad Nadir, who said graft was widespread in the government and among aid groups.

But he said Afghans had to be optimistic.

"I'm hopeful about the future, not only for my own business but for the whole of Afghanistan. We have no alternative, we have to be hopeful," Nadir said.

Friday, January 27, 2006

[US] Study finds rich-poor income gap growing


Liberal-leaning think tanks find lower-income families lagging behind

Associated Press

ALBANY, N.Y. - The disparity between rich and poor is growing in America as the federal minimum wage has remained flat for years, union membership has declined and industries have faced global competition, according to a study released Thursday.

The report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the Economic Policy Institute, both liberal-leaning think tanks, found the incomes of the poorest 20 percent of families nationally grew by an average of $2,660, or 19 percent, over the past 20 years. Meanwhile, the incomes of the richest fifth of families grew by $45,100, or nearly 59 percent, the study by the Washington-based groups said.

Families in the middle fifth saw their incomes rise 28 percent, or $10,218.

The figures, based on U.S. Census data, compare the average growth from 1980-82 to 2001-03, after adjusting for inflation.

The poorest one-fifth of families, the report said, had an average income of $16,780 from 2000-03, while the top fifth of families had an average income of $122,150 _ more than seven times as much. Middle-income families' average income was $46,875.

Trudi Renwick, an economist with the union-backed Fiscal Policy Institute in New York, said globalization, the decline of manufacturing jobs, the expansion of low-wage service jobs, immigration and the weakening of unions have hurt those on the lower end of the economic scale.

In 38 states, the incomes of high-income families grew by a higher percentage than those of the lowest-income families; Alaska was the only state in which the reverse was true. The 11 states where the high and low incomes increased at about the same rate were mostly in the West and Midwest.

The greatest disparity between rich and poor was in New York, where the top 20 percent of wage earners had average incomes 8.1 times larger than the poorest 20 percent in the early 2000s. Texas had only a slightly smaller gap; Wyoming had the smallest disparity at a 5.2 to 1 ratio.

Matthew Maguire, a spokesman for the Business Council of New York state, said the money earned by the state's wealthiest residents is "something that everybody who cares about New York should be pleased about."

"New York's wealthy pay huge sums in taxes and those wealthy people and their taxes make it possible for New York to provide the nation's most generous social service programs to less fortunate New Yorkers," he said. "It also reflects the fact the state is a magnet for immigrants who come from the four corners of the globe to a state they see as symbol of economic activity."

Renwick said the government "needs to continue its commitment to correcting the natural outcomes of the marketplace" by raising the minimum wage with inflation and by tax policies like the earned income tax credit.

Renwick also suggested that governments, when giving tax breaks to companies, insist those companies provide jobs that pay higher wages.

[Italy] Casini: "Let's pledge for a world without gaps"

from AGI

Lower House speaker, Pier Ferdinando Casini, speaking in Manila at the international conference of centrist democrats, said: "We must pledge to create a world in which gaps are not so strong or I believe that we could not wish for a serene future".

Casini visited one of the poorest districts of Manila today, Tondo, in which there is an Italian mission led by father Giovanni Gentilin that works to alleviate the sufferance of the poor. "I'm very proud of men like father Giovanni. They alleviate, with their extraordinary work, thousands of children from a desperate condition" he said. Casini was worried about the condition of minors and denounced that in Manila there was trafficking of human beings and slavery.

"There won't be a decent future for anybody if poverty won't be defeated" Casini said. Casini proposed dialog among religions as a way to defeat terrorism. He also stressed that the rich countries had many responsibilities for the inhuman conditions of the lives of too many people in the developing countries. "We cannot leave the possibility to work for these people only to extraordinary volunteers like father Giovanni" he said.

According to Casini the west had to face the issue of the debt of the poor countries and had to boost the investments in these countries to give them a better future. Casini also visited the biggest dump of Asia after Calcutta's one in which thousands people live recycling rubbish. "We must rebel to some things. Too often we get used to the trafficking of human beings and children's organs" he said.

The Italian mission led by the Canossian priest wants to boost long distance adoptions of Tondo children. Casini said that it was necessary to boost the long distance adoptions of these children.

[World Economic Forum] Politicians, bankers, rock stars look to Africa's future

from Monsters and Critics

Davos, Switzerland - Leading figures involved in the debate over the development of Africa on Friday laid out what they saw were the next steps for the impoverished continent at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

They agreed that top priorities were global trade talks, exposing corruption by donors and recipients, investing heavily in primary education and tackling farm subsidies that put African farmers at a serious disadvantage.

However, they all agreed that the Africa must be given the tools and opportunity to take itself forward.

'We used to talk and talk about what to do in Africa,' said British Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown. 'The real question is about what Africa can do for itself.'

Nigerian President Olusegun Obansanjo said that Africa was taking the first steps toward this goal by beginning to govern with accountability, pointing to elections in Liberia, Tanzania and Burundi.

Irish rock star and poverty campaigner, Bono, said that Africa should be allowed to give free rein to its entrepreneurial nature by removing Common Agricultural Subsidies, under which European cows are 'paid' two dollars a day and Japanese cows seven dollars.

'They say it's better to teach a man to fish than to give him a fish,' he said. 'It's even better to teach a man how to sell a fish.'

The only problem with the idea of 'selling fish' was the physical infrastructure required to get to market, said World Bank President, Paul D. Wolfowitz.

'The Bank is trying to get back into infrastructure projects,' he said.

[Bono] out of tune with poverty campaigners on branding plan

from The Times Online

By Jenny Davey, Tom Bawden and Liz Chong

LEADING non-governmental organisations attacked an initiative launched by Bono, the rock star, to fight Aids in Africa as a cynical ploy that would prove to be counterproductive.

The NGOs, set up to help the developing world, said that the venture would help to preserve the main causes of Aids, such as corrupt governments, by unintentionally providing them with valuable funds.

Bono denied that he was being used to boost the reputations of “fat-cat” businessmen as he announced the retail venture with the brands American Express, Gap, Converse and Giorgio Armani.

The frontman of the group U2 will help to sell products such as sports shoes and sunglasses under a new brand called “Red”, from which a proportion of revenues will be diverted to combat the disease.

At a press conference yesterday Bono said: “I am not a cheap date. I have been used before. We are not endorsing the products of these companies, these products are endorsing us.”

He said that the “risk of a rock star ending up with egg on his face” was worth it.

But Philip Stevens, director of health policy at the International Policy Network, said: “These kinds of projects are counterproductive because they create perverse incentives. In countries such as Uganda there is evidence of systematic embezzlement of aid, which strengthens the governments that are largely responsible for the spread of the disease.”

He said that poverty, largely the result of a lack of economic freedom, was the main cause of Aids and one of the hallmarks of the “extremely repressive” politics that exist in parts of Africa.

Matthew McGregor, of the War on Want campaign group, said: “Cynical marketing ploys aren’t the answer. The problem with schemes like this is that they miss the point.

“What people in developing countries need is a change to the rules that keep them poor — the trade rules that give corporations a free run at exploiting workers and suppliers.”

[Bono] reveals plan to stop AIDS

from the Caymanian Compass

DAVOS, Switzerland (AP) – U2 front man and activist Bono unveiled a new Red brand on Thursday aimed at combating the spread of HIV and AIDS in Africa by using sneakers, T–shirts and a charge card all using the red color and brand to generate money and provide work for Africans.

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf used a special address to the World Economic Forum to talk about the role of strategy in dealing with the aftermath of last year’s devastating earthquake.

The second day of the forum’s annual meeting promised a blend of celebrity and brass–tacks talk of the issues facing the global community, ranging from security against terror to advancing human rights and the struggle against poverty and disease.

Dressed in a denim jacket and sporting his trademark wraparound sunglasses, Bono said the new "Red" program would help the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria by raising more money for its programs.

"So, here we are fat cats in the snow and I say that as one," the songwriter and member of DATA, or Debt, AIDS and Trade in Africa, said, to laughs. "It is a great place to do business and we have some business we want to talk to you about."

The venture will include an American Express card, shoes, T–shirts and sunglasses and is a long term method of raising private income for the group, said Richard Feachem, executive director of the Global Fund.

"Red will bring a rising income stream...(and) increased awareness of HIV in Africa and the role of the Global Fund to finance programs to treat it," he said. "Income from Red will flow to support Global Fund programs in Africa against HIV Aids, especially programs that help women and children."

The Forum released a joint study by a panel of experts that rated the likelihood as "very high" that there would be new HIV and tuberculosis infections of 5 million people this year.

Musharraf shied away from his remarks in an interview with The Wall Street Journal that his country would build a planned gas pipeline from Iran by itself if talks with India failed.

Instead, he talked of using corporate strategy to guide a relief effort for earthquake survivors.

"The leader has to take stock and assess the situation," he told an audience of several hundred business executives, government officials and more. "The leader must act immediately to show solidarity with the people, to infuse confidence and hope in the people.

"It may just be a flag showing, it may just be optics, but it is extremely important ... he must reach out to the people immediately," he said.

Musharraf added that some US$6.2 billion in relief was earmarked or donated to Pakistan in the aftermath.

[Greece] A fifth of Greeks live in poverty

from Kathimerini

Statistics agency survey finds that the elderly, women and countryside residents are especially vulnerable

About 800,000 households — accounting for a fifth of the country’s population — live in poverty, according to research published yesterday by the National Statistics Service (NSS).

Women, the elderly and those who live in the countryside are the groups especially threatened by poverty. The poor also include a disproportionate number of less-educated people and face greater health problems.

The NSS survey, which contains data from 2003, estimates that the poor are those with an annual individual income of under 5,300 euros. It also finds that the percentage of people living in poverty declined from 21 percent in 2002 to 20 percent in 2003.

The survey’s main findings are the following:

- 799,350 households, with 2,126,750 members, live in poverty.

- Were it not for state handouts, the number of people living in poverty would rise to 39.8 percent of the population.

- The percentage of women living in poverty (21.1 percent) is slightly higher than that of men (18.9 percent).

- The age group suffering most from poverty is those over 65 (28.2 percent), followed by those aged 16-24 (23.5 percent). About one in five children up to the age of 15 (19.7 percent) live in poor households.

The survey also found a discrepancy of 10 percent between men’s and women’s wages for comparable jobs.

An apparently paradoxical finding is that 20.1 percent of households living in their own houses or apartments are poor, compared to 19.7 percent of those who rent their lodgings.

This, the NSS explains, is due to the fact that 97 percent of farming households, where the incidence of poverty is double the national average, own their houses. An additional factor is the number of poor people who have built their own houses without a construction permit on the fringes of big cities, especially Athens.

It follows from the above finding that there is an higher likelihood of poverty in lightly populated areas (41.3 percent) than in areas of medium- and high-population density, where the poverty rate is 25.4 percent and 13 percent respectively. However, the study distinguishes between rural and urban areas rather than between areas of high and low population density in urban centers. On the other hand, no high-density urban ghettos have emerged yet, despite the concentration of poor immigrants in certain neighborhoods.

Amenities and needs

Unsurprisingly, many poor households lack basic amenities: 12.2 percent have no inside toilet and 36 percent cannot afford to have adequate heating. In all, 60.2 percent of the poor cannot meet extraordinary expenses (such as illness) and 24.7 percent cannot pay for adequate nutrition; 41.1 percent of the poor have difficulty paying their electricity and water bills, 11.7 percent are behind in their rent payments and 9.5 percent face difficulties in paying back their credit card debt. (While it may seem unimaginable, another survey has found that 20 percent of credit cards have been issued to poor households.) Also, 82.2 percent of the poor do not have the means to pay for holidays.

Being out of poverty does not necessarily mean a life of affluence. According to the survey, only 1.9 percent of all households claim to make ends meet “very easily.”

Another 11 percent responded “easily,” 25.1 percent “with some difficulty” and 31.1 percent “with great difficulty.”

Regarding the level of education of the total population — the education levels of the poor appear in parentheses — 2.9 percent failed to finish elementary school (6.5 percent), 36 percent have finished elementary school (52.1 percent), 12.5 percent have a junior high school education (14 percent), 28.6 percent have a senior high school diploma (20.6 percent), 4.3 percent have finished technical colleges or other post-secondary education institutes other than universities (2.8 percent) and 15.7 percent have university degrees (4 percent).

[Thailand] PM, Chavalit disagree on approach

from The Bangkok Post


Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra backs the role of local bodies in fighting poverty whereas Chavalit Yongchaiyudh has other ideas, saying the At Samat model is less than ideal in solving the problem. At a meeting of tambon administration organisations from across the country in Chiang Mai yesterday, Mr Thaksin stressed the importance of local bodies which he said were key to easing national poverty.

The grassroots bodies are the first to come into contact with ordinary people's problems and have insight into them, said the prime minister.

He said technological innovations would also be brought in to assist the TAOs' poverty eradication efforts.

The newly-established anti-poverty centre headed by Gen Chavalit will act as a coordinator in delegating authority and distributing resources to district chiefs who are supposed to work in partnership with the TAOs in tackling poverty.

Training for district chiefs would be modelled on the anti-poverty workshop which concluded last week in Roi Et's At Samat district.

Meanwhile, at a seminar on fighting poverty at Chulalongkorn University yesterday, Gen Chavalit said the At Samat reality workshop concentrated too much on the finer details of each troubled individual.

Instead, the government should set out long-term, sustainable development plans for the benefit of the whole community. It should also provide new technology while people should be encouraged to pool ideas and exchange knowledge and local wisdom.

He said success in overcoming poverty hinged on participation from grassroots people.

Local people should take centre stage in deciding their own poverty eradication plans. The state may also step in to support them financially.

Citing the merits of the Baan Mankong housing project, Gen Chavalit said he favoured the common use of land and sharing of resources over the ''charity handouts'' of land plots to each individual as witnessed in At Samat district.

However, he said he was eyeing the three southernmost provinces as the first location to try out his poverty-eradication campaign.

[Australia] Labor $1bn battle plan on poverty

from The Age

By Tim Colebatch, Canberra

LABOR has pledged to set up a $1 billion trust fund to help Pacific Islanders develop their own small businesses as part of a major overhaul of Australia's foreign aid program to focus it squarely on reducing poverty.

Labor's spokesman on overseas aid and Pacific island affairs, Bob Sercombe, said the Howard Government had limited the effectiveness of Australia's $2.5 billion-a-year aid program by spending too much of it on Australian consultants and using it for other purposes such as locking up asylum seekers.

Mr Sercombe said Labor in government would focus the aid program on working in partnership with developing countries to reduce poverty, using the United Nations' eight Millennium Development Goals as the benchmarks for outcomes.

Labor would establish an independent think tank on development issues, modelled on the Government's Australian Strategic Policy Institute, and consider making AusAID a separate department to encourage more effective debate within government and in the community on development issues.

"It's time for Australia to help make poverty history," Mr Sercombe said. "Third World poverty is the greatest challenge of our times, and Labor is joining the fight. We can't stand back when we could save 40,000 children in the Asia Pacific each year. This is a moral imperative."

Mr Sercombe said a recent OECD review of Australia's aid program found almost half of it was provided in the form of technical assistance, mostly by Australians. The Howard Government, he said, had also used the aid program to pay $100 million to set up and run detention centres for asylum seekers in Nauru and Papua New Guinea, and $83 million in inflated prices for Australian wheat sales to Iraq.

A Labor policy paper issued yesterday, Our Generation's Challenge, says Labor would increase Australia's aid budget from 0.36 per cent of national income in 2010 to 0.5 per cent "as quickly as budgetary circumstances permit". But it failed to commit to a specific timetable, as most other Western countries have done.

Instead, the paper focuses on improving the goals and structure of Australia's aid program, which the Howard Government plans to increase to $4 billion a year by 2010. The paper was welcomed yesterday by PNG Foreign Minister Sir Rabbie Namaliu, who praised the proposed Pacific Development Trust as "a welcome departure from existing aid arrangements that are based on government-to-government assistance".

Vanuatu Prime Minister Ham Lini said his people also would welcome the planned trust. "There is a real need in Vanuatu for this type of financial facility," he said.

Mr Sercombe said this generation of Australians faced a unique challenge to fight global poverty.

"More than 8 million people around the world die each year because they are too poor to stay alive," he said. "Our generation can choose to end that extreme poverty by 2025."

[Indiana] Hope is focus of poverty film

from The Marion Chronicle Tribune

Documentary shares lessons that were learned

A 10-month journey for Andrea Vermilion - during which she left her job at the Muncie PBS affiliate and spent hundreds of hours writing, editing film and recording narration for her documentary - ended Tuesday night, when she put the finishing touches onLeading the Way Out of Poverty.

"I felt like a huge load and burden had been lifted from me," Vermilion, a Marion resident, said.

The film, which will premiere at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Indiana Wesleyan's Globe Theatre, focuses on the problem of poverty, but presents it in a unique manner.

"I didn't want to make another bleeding heart documentary, and I think there's enough out there to tell communities that poverty is a problem," she said. "I wanted to find some hope, and share some ... lessons that I learned through the writing of the documentary."

To better express that hope, Vermilion's documentary focuses on the stories of people who have experienced poverty but have been able to overcome it and lead successful and fulfilling lives. Several community leaders in Grant County were featured in the film, including Marion Mayor Wayne Seybold, Jerry Pattengale, a history professor at IWU and assistant vice president for academic support, and Cathy Weatherspoon, assistant director of career development at Taylor University.

Even Vermilion, her mother and her daughters were featured in the film in an attempt to show what it takes to end generational poverty.

"For me, it was full circle that I was able to give my testimony of how faithful God has been in my life and how I was raised and the disadvantages I had growing up," Weatherspoon said. "It was just so important for me to show those that come from that same past that it is possible to pull themselves out of those barriers."

Weatherspoon grew up in a single-parent home, with four siblings in subsidized housing in Brunswick, Ga., and said that her success was not only her job, but also her family and the environment that her children are being raised in.

"What I want people to see is that I didn't forget where I came from, that I am still involved ... that I still have passions to help those who are involved in the same barriers that I was when I was growing up," Weatherspoon said.

The 90-minute film, which was produced by WIPB, the Muncie PBS affiliate, was paid for by a National Center for Outreach grant. Vermilion said she began to write the grant in early 2005, and found out in April that her proposal was one of 10 in the entire nation to get funding.

"The grant was for us to produce a local program and use it in conjunction with national PBS programming. We had to do outreach activities and events that would go along with it," Vermilion said.

Vermilion said she got the idea to take an in-depth look at poverty from the 2000 Chronicle-Tribuneseries "Moment of Truth." She said the desire only increased when she began to work at the Marion-Grant County YWCA and worked with teenage single mothers.

When she left to take a job with WIPB, she said she viewed the job as an opportunity to take a look at poverty on a larger scale.

Since she completed her first documentary, Vermilion already has plans for a second.

"I want to do (the second documentary) about poverty as well," she said. "I don't want to see us stop. I feel like we have momentum going and I'm looking for some grants and talking to some organizations and some other producers."

[Australia] 'Wrongful deportee living in poverty'

from The Australian

By Kylie Williams

A MAN with kidney problems was wrongfully deported to Turkey, where he lived in poverty and survived on money sent from his parents in Australia, his lawyer said today.

Immigration lawyer Michaela Byers said Gulteckin Sayin, 43, was wrongfully deported to Turkey in 1997 after serving a nine-year prison sentence for drug and robbery offences.

Mr Sayin arrived in Australia from Turkey in 1971 as a nine-year-old with his parents who live in Sydney and are now Australian citizens, Ms Byers said.

Ms Byers said although Mr Sayin was receiving medical treatment for his kidney problem in Turkey his parents were worried it was not adequate.

"They're concerned about his kidney problem," she said.

"He is receiving medical treatment in Turkey, he's entitled to it because he did national service, but they're not sure how good it is."

His parents also send him about $500 a month to help with living expenses and had paid for his unsuccessful legal fight to stay in Australia, she said.

Ms Byers said Mr Sayin now worked as a trolley boy in Turkey.

"He's living in poverty in Turkey," she said.

"They've spent $200,000 on trying to stop the deportation and sending him money in Turkey."

Although Mr Sayin was a heroin addict, he did a drug course in prison and had been clean since 1992, Ms Byers said.

She said there was no suggestion Mr Sayin was suffering from a mental illness.

The Department of Immigration would not comment until they finished investigating his file.

[Afghanistan] economy growing but poverty pervasive

From Reuters Alert Net

By Robert Birsel

KABUL, Jan 27 (Reuters) - Afghan stone mason Khan Mohammad says he hasn't had a proper job in three months.

Standing on a cold street corner in Kabul early on Friday, Mohammad and a few dozen other men are hoping to get a day's work.

"I've managed to get only two days as a labourer, not as a mason," Mohammad said. He was paid 180 afghanis ($3.60) one day and 200 afghanis ($4) the other.

He said he would wait all day in the hope someone would give him work and would only go back to his rented room where he lives with his wife and five children after dark.

"I have to sneak back after dark to avoid the shop-keepers I owe money to," he said.

Afghanistan's economy is growing, despite a stubborn insurgency in the south and east, but for many Afghans, such as Mohammad, life isn't getting any easier.

The International Monetary Fund said last month Afghanistan's economy was set to grow 14 percent in 2005/06, although that was likely to slow to 10 percent by year-end.

Good weather boosted agriculture last year. Construction also remains buoyant while inflationary pressures have eased, the IMF said.

"The economy has improved now if you compare with four years ago, but not enough to satisfy everyone," Minister of Economy Mohammad Amin Farhang, told Reuters in an interview this week.

The government says it is aiming for 10 percent growth annually over the next five years and has drawn up a plan -- known as the Interim National Development Strategy -- that sets out a range of development targets.

The plan will be presented at an international conference on Afghanistan in London at the end of the month, where Afghanistan is hoping to get promises of help on security and development.


Afghanistan's international backers are likely to seek assurances on problems from drugs to security, to corruption and the government's capacity to handle aid properly.

Since U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban in late 2001, $11.8 billion of aid has been disbursed, according to government figures, but many Afghans remain mired in poverty.

Even in Kabul, residents are plagued by power cuts while many of the city's roads are in appalling condition.

Only 13 percent of Afghans have access to safe water and 12 percent to adequate sanitation, according to the World Bank. Only 6 percent of Afghans have access to mains electricity.

"Poverty is pervasive," said Ameerah Haq, the U.N. secretary-general's deputy representative in Afghanistan.

"We've got about 6.8 million people who are chronically hungry ... We have about 53 percent of the population living below the poverty line, less than a dollar a day. These are daunting figures," she told Reuters.

A major problem is public revenue. Afghanistan has one of the lowest ratios of gross domestic product to domestic revenue earned, about 4.5 percent, Haq said.

The United Nations is recommending a two-pronged development strategy -- investment in infrastructure to take advantage of the country's position at the cross-roads of Asia and the Middle East -- and broad-based rural development.

"It requires a lot of economic stimulus to increase the amount of revenue but also to have external aid allocated in a way which allows growth from both sides -- one trying to bring in foreign income, the other saying the vast majority of the population are rural, so let's try and lift them up," Haq said.

Anja de Beer, director of an umbrella organisation coordinating the efforts of aid groups, said the lives of most Afghans had improved and parts of the government were doing a good job in defining policy and getting it implemented.

"There are still huge problems. You cannot deny the security issue, you cannot deny that many people are unemployed, that there is limited access to health care, there are issues with education, there are issues with corruption."

"(But) Afghans are so focused on moving forward ... so intent on making a better future, I think that gives cause for optimism," she said.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

[New York] NYC Mayor pledges work on poverty, Ground Zero

From The Herald News Daily

NEW YORK - New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Thursday said he would attack some of the city‘s toughest problems -- poverty and the obstacles that have slowed the World Trade Center redevelopment.

Bloomberg, who won a second term after demonstrating the management expertise he learned building a media empire, stressed goal-setting, saying "throwing money" at poverty would not work.

"Our City has shown that problems once thought to be beyond hope: dangerous streets, failing schools, chronic homelessness -- can be turned around if we target our resources where they are needed most, if we set measurable goals, and if we hold ourselves accountable," the Republican said in his first "State of the City" speech after winning a second term.

Bloomberg also flung his weight behind a bid to speed Ground Zero‘s rebuilding. He backed the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey‘s offer to cut Developer Larry Silverstein‘s rent in return for giving up Towers 3 and 4.

This would enable the agency, which owns the site, to move into one tower and hire a developer for the other, he said.

Silverstein‘s top aide, Janno Lieber, said it was "unclear" how this would speed the rebuilding, and blamed the delays on the agency as it has not excavated the sites or built a retaining wall to keep the Hudson River from flooding in.

Steve Coleman, an agency spokesman, said it agreed with the mayor, and noted Republican Gov George Pataki set a March deadline for the lease negotiations with Silverstein.

Bloomberg, who took the unusual step of delivering his speech in Staten Island instead of Manhattan, closely tied a campaign pledge to create 250,000 jobs over the next five years to big real estate projects in all five boroughs. These would range from new stadiums for the Yankees and Mets baseball teams to an East River Science Park that he said will create 2,500 biotech jobs.

The mayor set another goal: drawing 50 million tourists a year by 2015, up from the 41 million who came last year, and earmarked an extra $15 million for this effort. "We‘ll soon announce a comprehensive plan to protect our great hotels and encourage investment in new hotels," Bloomberg added.

A number of landmark Manhattan hotels, including the famed Plaza Hotel, are being partly turned into condominiums, sparking fears a shortage of hotel rooms will develop.

Saying the city‘s future also depended on affordable housing, Bloomberg pledged to ask the state to continue a $400 annual property tax rebate for homeowners for four more years.

And Bloomberg, who will release his new budget on Tuesday, said it would include funding for a $7.5 billion plan to build and preserve 165,000 affordable housing units by 2013.

While the city now boasts robust financial health, nondiscretionary costs have shot up almost $7.0 billion in four years. With further big increases expected, Bloomberg warned of future deficits, and said the city must work with labor leaders to agree on healthcare contributions from public sector employees as well as modifications to pension contributions.

"When bad economic times return -- and they always do -- those deficits will explode and New Yorkers will pay a heavy price both in increased taxes and reduced services."

He did offer new funds for healthcare -- $100 million for record-keeping systems for the city‘s poorest neighborhoods to save millions of dollars by boosting preventive care, and $200 million for public schools.

[Bulgaria] Students shocked by scenes of poverty

from IC Surrey Online

By Glenn Pearson

A GROUP of students from Reigate College have produced a film about their experiences of visiting a poverty-stricken town in Bulgaria.

Members of the college's student union along with community and welfare tutor Susie McGraw visited the Roma quarter of Rakitovo in December and were appalled at the conditions people were living in.

The group is turning its video footage into a short film that will be shown at Reigate College in Castlefield Road and at other schools in the borough in an effort to raise awareness and support for the Rakitovo Self Sufficiency Project.

Miss McGraw said: "The students and I have been profoundly affected by the experience of visiting the Roma quarter in Rakitovo, Bulgaria.

"The conditions that the families in the Roma quarter are living in are inhuman.

"The only way we can see to make a difference is by sponsoring the medical centre and school. The first provides immediate aid and the second gives the long-term chance of escape."

Miss McGraw said some of the homes they visited in the deprived area were no bigger than most English kitchens but housed six people.

She said the shacks had no electricity, no running water, no glass in the windows, an open sewer outside their ill-fitting door and were often on a hillside with no maintained paths.

She added: "The stench in the summer must be appalling. The conditions we saw in the winter were staggering, as three foot of snow fell in 48 hours and we saw women trekking through this up the hill with bottles carrying 20 litres of water which they get from a well. The men trek to the forest to collect firewood; this is illegal but it's their only source of fuel."

Students at the college said the experience had a huge an effect on them and life back in Reigate was incomparable.

Oli Wilson, co-president of the students' union, said: "The thing that really got to me was the smiling faces of the children at the school we are sponsoring, even though they really had nothing and were going home to poverty. That has shocked me to my very core."

If you would like to sponsor a child's education and a medical centre in Rakitovo visit the website at www.rakitovo.co.uk

[US Budget] Health care, education programs brace for cuts

From Sign On San Diego

Poor, disadvantaged likely to feel brunt
By Dana Wilkie

WASHINGTON – Each of the 138 AIDS patients in the San Diego Hospice & Palliative Care's stay-at-home program must receive a $20 gas allowance so they can get to the doctor. Those are the state rules that come with the federal money that funds the program.

However, Washington soon will likely reimburse the hospice only $19 for each gas allowance.

The $1 reduction – which the hospice must make up if it wants to hang on to the other 19 federal dollars – may not seem like a lot of money. However, several such congressionally approved cuts are adding up to one big headache for the hospice, San Diego school principals, welfare parents and others affected by the budget the House and Senate recently passed.

"They're telling us they're cutting our pay, but we're not allowed to cut or modify services in any way," said Laurel Herbst, vice president of medical affairs for the hospice, which expects to lose $30,000 this year because of congressional cuts to Medicaid, the federal health program for the poor.

"This program is designed to keep people out of the hospital," Herbst said. "But if the program folds, these people are too sick to maintain their own care, and they'll end up in an institution."

Just before Christmas, the House and Senate approved nearly $40 billion in spending cuts over the next five years – largely in entitlement programs designed to help the poor and disadvantaged.

The reductions also will hit Medicare, the health program for the elderly; Head Start, the early childhood education and health program; Title I funds for high-poverty schools; grants to keep schools drug-free; programs that help needy families with housing and heating bills; programs that help pregnant women and small children with health care; day care, foster care and child support enforcement services; projects that help those with HIV and AIDS; and college student loan programs.

The Senate passed a similar plan that made slight changes, so the House must vote on the cuts again in early February. Some critics are pressuring lawmakers to withdraw their support by then, although the measure is expected to pass.

The White House and Republican leaders say the changes to the entitlement programs will trim the federal deficit.

"I think we're supposed to do the hard things," Bush said in a Jan. 19 speech, adding that a president "should confront problems now, and not pass them on to future generations."

Critics note that the House and Senate also have passed nearly $60 billion in tax cuts, which also must be finalized next month.

"Programs of benefit to families with low incomes, middle-class Americans, and state and local governments would essentially be cut more deeply, not to reduce the deficit, but to finance a portion of the cost of tax cuts, which primarily benefit the well-off," says the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal think tank.

Those in San Diego who run programs that will be affected by the budget ax argue that the changes should not be called "reforms," the term used by GOP leaders.

Hospice administrators say they will lose about $150,000 from their stay-at-home program for those with HIV/AIDS. But the cuts do not come with a corresponding easing of rules. There still must be no more than 40 patients assigned to one social worker, even if assigning more patients might help stretch dollars and keep the program afloat.

"One state supervisor (told us), 'We know you can't break even. We just expect you to take the money from somebody else,' " said the hospice's Herbst. "Lovely."

California's superintendent of public instruction, Jack O'Connell, said Title I funding statewide would be slashed by nearly $68 million, Even Start programs by about $15 million, career technical education by $3 million, and Safe and Drug Free school funding by almost $11 million.

"At a time when our nation should be investing in the future of our students as never before, this budget cuts education funding for the first time in a decade," said O'Connell, a Democrat.

The San Diego Unified School District is bracing for a 6.5 percent cut in Title I funds, which means a $3 million reduction in the money that helps 53,000 children who live in poverty and may struggle with low grades and poor study skills. District principals were expected to learn this week how much money to plan on, but Bell Junior High School Principal Kristi Dean already is expecting to lose one-third of her $416,625 Title I funding.

Dean said that means she might have to cut teaching positions and make classes bigger in a school program that helps 50 children with their grades and homework.

"It's scary losing anything," Dean said. "We all know that the lower your teacher-to-student ratio, the better results you're going to get. There would not be as much individualized attention."

Across town, the Neighborhood House Association expects to lose about $1 million from its annual $82 million grant for Head Start, which helps 11,283 area preschoolers from disadvantaged San Diego homes with early education, nutrition and health programs.

The federal cuts put 400 preschool slots at risk, but the Neighborhood House and other San Diego Head Start programs hope to trim spending elsewhere before cutting children from the program.

"It has become increasingly difficult to provide the (services) . . . that Head Start standards demand," said Edward Condon, director of the California Head Start Association. "(There) are larger caseloads for Head Start social workers, fewer resources for needed health services and reduced staff training. The next round of cuts will be (children's) slots."

[Philippines] Dauin poverty blamed on low Corn Production

From The Visayan Daily Star

The low production of corn, which is the number one farm produce of Dauin, Oriental Negros, was cited as the root cause of poverty in the town.

Representatives from the University of the Philippines-Manila were in Dauin yesterday to conduct an accounting of how the town was able to cope with the problem.

Under a World Bank-sponsored project, solutions were conceptualized to increase the corn yield by groups, including coffee processing and bringing them to Bacolod City in Negros Occidental, handicraft making, and dive guiding.

Mayor Rodrigo Alanano said he wanted to strictly enforce the working visa requirements of dive guides, among which, is for them to acquire business permits.

Alice Celestino from UP Manila said lessons learned from the experience in Dauin will be replicated in other areas in the country.

Dauin is fortunate to be a recipient of the World Bank project among seven beneficiaries throughout the Philippines, she said.

[World Economic Forum] ILO warns on Job Cuts

From All Africa

Funmi Komolafe

AS the World Economic Forum (WEF) opened in Davos, Switzerland, Director-General of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), Mr. Juan Somavia, has warned of unprecedented the job crisis in the world. Mr. Somavia's call tallied with that of stakeholders who met in Bamako, Mali at the World Social Forum (WSF), and called for decent jobs, lamenting that privatisation of public utilities, un-controlled trade between the North and the South have resulted in the closure of many factories in developing countries especially Africa.

This, they noted, had not only increased unemployment in Africa but also entrenched poverty. The ILO Director-General commended the decision of the WEF to place on its 2006 agenda an item on creating future jobs, and urged the world's top business and government leaders attending the Forum to consider urgent steps for tackling a worsening global jobs situation.

Mr. Somavia warned that the global jobs crisis was a growing concern in terms of its impact on markets and incomes, and a threat to the credibility of democracies around the world. He said putting job creation, global employment, new skill development and labour mobility on the WEF agenda marked a major step forward in raising awareness among world leaders.

"This crisis isn't going unnoticed on the streets of rich and poor countries alike," Mr. Somavia said,adding: "Increasingly, political leaders are hearing the voices of people demanding a fair chance at decent jobs and new opportunities to find and keep work. Yet far too often, those opportunities just aren't there."

The West African Trade Union Group whose meeting in Bamako was facilitated by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung deliberated extensively on labour market security under neo-liberalism said rising unemployment had impeded development in Africa.

In a report of Hauwa Mustapha of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), discussed in Bamako, she said: "Many firms have been forced to steamline and restructure their operations and to lay off workers in the name of rationalisation and downsizing. Privatisation of the public sector as well as restructuring of the civil service has left many jobless, especially among the youths and women."

Mr. Somavia on his part, said this "opportunity gap took a heavy toll on the lives of women and men and their families, not only because it meant that millions of people might not have enough or even any income, but also because having decent work affects people's dignity, their sense of self worth and the stability of their families."

[World Economic Forum] Activists Seek End to Poverty, Iraq War

from Forbes


Activists at the World Social Forum on Wednesday called for decisive actions against poverty, an immediate end to the war in Iraq and a radical shift away from free trade.

The leftist event, held to counter the market-friendly World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, features discussions of subjects such as "Imperialism - the greatest threat to humanity" and "Socialism of the 21st century."

"We came to raise our complaints about the lack of justice in the world, the hunger, the war," said Catalina Herazo, a 25-year-old Colombian student activist.

She said national governments, particularly wealthy ones, should make radical changes and consider a "worldwide tax" to combat poverty.

More than 60,000 people signed up to attend the forum, spokesman Julio Fermin said, short of the initial goal of 100,000 attendees from around the world.

The alternative forum had its own alternative forum: hundreds of activists are holding a separate symposium because they say the main event has strayed from its freethinking leftist roots and serves as propaganda for Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a former paratroop commander.

The seven-day Alternative Social Forum shares some of the anti-capitalist, anti-globalization themes but is taking up issues that are thornier in Venezuela, such as the dangers of authoritarianism under a military caudillo.

"It's very clear that (the World Social Forum) is laudatory in nature and meant to promote what the government proposes," said organizer Nelson Mendez, a Venezuelan engineering professor.

The six-day main event began Tuesday with a march through Caracas, with protesters shouting slogans against the war in Iraq and President Bush, whom some called a "terrorist."

Activists sang a communist hymn with fists raised in tribute to Salvadoran leftist leader Shafik Handal, a guerrilla commander who fought U.S.-backed troops during the country's 12-year civil war and died of a heart attack at age 75 Tuesday.

Many praised leftist Chavez's social programs for the poor, while others called attention to issues such as pollution, racism and women's rights.

American peace activist Cindy Sheehan, whose son was killed in Iraq in 2004, demanded an immediate U.S. pullout and criticized Bush for not having captured Osama bin Laden.

"Most Americans want our troops home by the end of 2006. But that's far too late. Every minute that we wait, more blood is spilled," Sheehan told reporters. "George Bush still continues his evil rhetoric that he is waging a war on terrorism, and he is really waging a war of terrorism against the world."

Sheehan, a 48-year-old from Berkeley, Calif., said she planned to meet Chavez this week.

The annual World Social Forum was first held in Brazil in 2001 and this year is being backed by the government of Chavez, who was expected to address activists on the sidelines.

Since taking office in 1999, Chavez has funneled million of dollars from booming oil profits into programs for the poor and has established hundreds of state-run cooperatives.

He has also emerged as a fierce opponent of U.S.-backed free trade proposals and strengthened ties with a growing array of left-leaning leaders across Latin America.

Some 2,000 events - including seminars, speeches and concerts - will take place across Caracas as part of the social forum.

Speakers include Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano, Argentine Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Perez Esquivel and former French first lady Danielle Mitterrand.

[Texas] Tour Of Poverty In Austin


By most measures, Austin's economy is still booming. The tide isn't lifting all boats, as the number of people living in poverty here grows.

Wednesday, the Basic Needs Coalition took local leaders and service agencies on a trip for a first hand look at poverty in Austin.

As part of Poverty Awareness Month, agencies are joining together to streamline assistance programs, to help those who need it most.

The numbers truly tell the story.

Thirteen percent of people in Travis County live below the federal poverty line. That's more than 100,000 people.

Advocates say that's far below what it actually costs to live here -- $44,000 a year for the basic needs of a family of four.

This group of civic leaders and service providers toured neighborhoods and assistance agencies to help put a face on Austin's impoverished.

It's not just a humanitarian effort but a civic duty.

"It's one of the mandates that county government has from the state to take care of indigent -- and that's in all aspects of their lives," Travis County Commissioner Margaret Gomez said.

Organizers say people often don't understand the daily struggles of the working poor.

Events like this will at least get communities talking about what can be done to raise the quality of life for everyone.

[John Major] ...says fighting poverty can beat terror

From Pittsburgh Live

By Bill Zlatos

Industrial nations must fight world poverty if they want to win the war on terror, says Britain's former Prime Minister John Major.

"That campaign needs to reach out far beyond military and security activities alone," Major said to applause during a speech Wednesday night at Heinz Hall, Downtown.

His appearance was part of the Pittsburgh Speaker Series sponsored by Robert Morris University.

Major, 62, a member of Britain's Conservative Party, said half of the world's 6 billion people live on less than $2 a day.

"That 6 billion population will be 8 billion in 25 years, and 97 percent of the extra 2 billion will be in that part of the world that lives on $2 a day," he said during an earlier speech at Robert Morris in Moon. "Is the world safe or less safe if five-eighths of the world lives in relative poverty while you live in relative affluence?"

Major urged industrial nations to meet the target they set at the United Nations 25 years ago. That goal was giving 0.7 percent of the total value of their goods and services in foreign aid every year. The United States gives 0.3 percent and Europe a little more.

The total value of all foreign aid by industrial nations totals $50 billion a year. In contrast, Major said, the United States and Europe spend $350 billion a year to subsidize cheap food for well-fed people in those countries.

To defeat terrorists, Major said, the world must deny them their safe havens and their causes, stem the flow of their recruits, attack their money laundering and reduce their supply of weapons.

"We must fight for the hearts and minds of those into whose ears radical poison is poured," he said.

As prime minister from 1990-97, Major helped build the strongest British economy in decades. He also helped to secure a lasting peace in Northern Ireland.

Elected to Parliament in 1979, he joined the Cabinet as chief secretary to the treasury in 1987. Major went on to serve as foreign secretary and chancellor of the exchequer before becoming prime minister.

Major left Parliament in 2001 and has served as adviser to various businesses and charities, including the Consortium for Street Children.

Brandishing a Terrible Towel, the former world leader boasted of his ties to Pittsburgh. His grandfather helped build the Carnegie Steel Works in the 19th century, and his father lived in Braddock in the early 20th century.

For those perplexed by the math, Major explained: "When I was born, my father was 65, and my mother was surprised."

[US] Mayor Is Heading Panel on Poverty

From The L A Times

In Washington, Villaraigosa tells fellow city leaders the poor are 'losing ground to the escalating cost of energy, tuition, medical care.'

By Patrick McGreevy, Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa convened a national task force on poverty Wednesday, telling mayors from around the country that a new strategy is needed to recognize the economic dangers facing the working poor.

Villaraigosa said during a session of the United States Conference of Mayors that the old way of thinking — that people in poverty are victims of their own lack of direction or apathy — must be replaced by concern for families who are poor despite being employed.
"We know that most poor people in America today work, and we know that a growing number of working Americans who we don't technically define as poor are dancing on the razor's edge of subsistence," Villaraigosa said.

The task force, he said, will address "the gulf between those at the very top of the economic ladder, who are earning more and doing better than they ever have, and the growing number of Americans who are working harder and slipping back."

By focusing on the working poor, government leaders must grapple with issues such as making housing affordable, increasing the minimum wage and improving schools so children have a chance to escape poverty, Villaraigosa told an audience of more than 1,000 mayors, government officials and business leaders.

The working poor are "losing ground to the escalating cost of energy, tuition, medical care and child care," the mayor said.

Much of the conference was spent discussing how Gulf Coast cities were devastated by hurricanes Katrina and Rita and how local officials felt let down by the federal and state responses to the disaster.

"As mayors, I think we can all agree that we saw reflections of all our cities in the faces of the people stranded on the rooftops of the Lower 9th Ward," Villaraigosa said.

As head of the task force, Villaraigosa gains a national leadership role on a major issue, other mayors said, adding that they have been impressed so far with what they have seen from the mayor of the nation's second-largest city.

And on Tuesday, Villaraigosa will deliver the Democrats' Spanish-language response to the president's State of the Union address. The mayor's comments will be carried on Spanish-language television networks. Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine will deliver the Democratic response in English.

The task force on poverty, said New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin, is "a wonderful idea."

"In addition to Katrina exposing the weakness of our levee system, it also exposed conditions in cities across America as it relates to poverty. I think now is the right time for us to really put a strong focus on it," Nagin said.

Villaraigosa was appointed to the panel, called the Task Force on Poverty and Opportunity, by Long Beach Mayor Beverly O'Neill, president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Villaraigosa said the task force will look at what works in cities and question government anti-poverty programs. He hopes the task force will have its first recommendations in six months but will remain involved in the debate for years to come.

Poverty must be made a moral issue, dealt with by the "collective will" of communities, he said. The federal government must do more, but so must the private sector, Villaraigosa said.

Ideas to be considered include using public pensions to invest in geographic areas that need help, having government provide vouchers to help working people buy houses, and expanding workers' capacity to save for housing or college, Villaraigosa said.

In addition, he said, reforming and improving schools nationwide has to be a key element of any effort.

The mayor has said he should be given more control of the schools in Los Angeles.

"We need to face the biggest question of all — how can we rescue our failing public schools?" he told the mayors, who cheered loudly.

Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, who encouraged Villaraigosa to head the task force, endorsed the emphasis on schools.

"Education is the most powerful weapon on the war on poverty," Daley told the mayors. "The gap between rich and poor is growing wider every year because whole segments of our society have had a second-class education and second-class opportunities."

Hours after his speech to the full conference, Villaraigosa convened the task force's first meeting, which drew about 30 mayors from cities including Trenton, N.J.; Dearborn, Mich.; San Jose; Columbus, Ohio; and Little Rock, Ark.

The group agreed to meet again in March in Los Angeles.

There was some disagreement about the best approach. One mayor, who did not identify himself when he spoke, said the problem of poverty can be largely solved by reducing the number of one-parent families.

San Jose Mayor Ron Gonzales warned that any recommendation by the task force would probably be ignored by the national media.

He recommended that the group hire media experts to tackle elements of poverty, one issue at a time.

Gonzales also told his colleagues they have to accept some responsibility for poverty, because many cities spend less in some neighborhoods than in others.

Villaraigosa is a natural choice to lead the task force: Los Angeles has the highest rate of poverty of any big city —about 22% — and has the largest population of homeless people in the nation.

"In my city of Los Angeles, the undisputed commercial and cultural capital of the richest, wealthiest nation in the world, you see close to 10,000 homeless children," Villaraigosa said.

Since he took office in July, the mayor has taken steps to help the poor, including a plan to spend tens of millions of dollars on affordable housing and an expansion of after-school programs.

Villaraigosa's job has been made harder by a recent announcement of cutbacks in anti-poverty funds from the federal government, which are to take effect during the next two years. Final appropriations are not set, but the mayor said he expects a 10% cut in community development block grants.

In responding to the cuts, Villaraigosa has drawn criticism for proposing across-the-board cuts in programs, including those that shelter the homeless.

He bristled Wednesday at the criticism, saying that making deeper cuts to some programs over others would bring accusations of political favoritism. He said he intends to seek private funds to cover all cuts.

Villaraigosa seemed to be relishing his new leadership role, schmoozing with other mayors at a three-day event that is part policy workshop, part social hour. In between the panel discussions, mayors attended receptions hosted by corporations, including Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

Government contractors set up booths to make their pitches to the mayors during the conference, at the Capitol Hilton Hotel.

Two scantily clad showgirls and an Elvis impersonator entertained those who went by the booth for Las Vegas.

Villaraigosa was everywhere at the conference; he planned to meet with Daley, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels and Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper.

Salt Lake City Mayor Ross "Rocky" Anderson said the mayors he had spoken with "are very pleased" with Villaraigosa's leadership.

"He's going to provide good, progressive leadership, not only for the city of Los Angeles. I also think he is going to be an important voice nationally for what city leaders can do on issues like poverty," Anderson said.

Miami Mayor Manuel A. Diaz also praised Villaraigosa for stepping up to bring new attention to poverty. "I'm sure he can do it. This is something most of us are attacking in our own cities," Diaz said.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

[Virginia] A Movement for Microcredit

From The Cavalier Daily

Inspired by a semester in Argentina, fourth-year College student promotes third-world economic policy

Jessica Van Atta, Cavalier Daily Associate Editor

Fourth-year College student CynthiaMangum traveled to Argentina in spring 2005 for a semester abroad and discovered something that compelled her to extend her stay through the summer. This "something" was microcredit. At the end of her semester course, she was required to do a field study, and Mangum chose this as her subject.

"I was studying a lot of the secondary impact on the family and the spillover effect into other sectors of society," Mangum said.

Microcredit falls under the general heading of microfinance, according to Mangum. Basically, it is a way to lend money to people of poor standing who would not otherwise qualify for a loan. The official definition established by the Microcredit Summit of 1997 defines these programs as offering "small loans to very poor people for self-employment projects that generate income, allowing them to care for themselves and their families."

Mangum said in developing countries many people may have talents or abilities that can be used in a market but do not have the necessary capital to fund their trade.

"They don't have access to financial services," she said.

Without access to funds, according to Mangum, these people cannot create their product because they cannot acquire the supplies they need.

Mangum described microfinance as an institution that benefits both the clients and the business.

"There are three billion poor people, which is a huge untapped market," she said. Microcredit "is not charity -- it is giving them something to lift themselves out of poverty."

According to Mangum, one way by which microcredit helps people is by advising them on how to keep inventory on their materials and sales to help their businesses grow. Mangum said this success also helps many developing countries as a whole, especially where the informal sector is over half the national economy.

Sociology Prof. Rae Blumberg has worked with microcredit in 15 different countries. She elaborated on how microcredit works and what its impact is on society.

Blumberg said microfinance emerged in the late 1970s and early 1980s as a new way of trying to get resources to the poor in the third world.

"By that time it had already been known that the types of credit programs for them were failures," Blumberg said. "These were subsidized credit -- which sounds like a great idea. They used low interest, but all failed because they had flaws."

Blumberg said in these failed programs, credit would trickle up, meaning the money ended up mostly in the hands of the more privileged instead of the extreme poor. She said giving money a lower-than-market rate of interest was a giveaway.

"Money was not captured by the needy target group, but rather the better off," she said.

She added that those programs benefiting the wealthier citizens had "showpiece" poor people, which were made visible during program evaluations so the programs would be continued.

Another problem with subsidized credit, according to Blumberg, is the wealthier people in the programs who would test whether donors were serious about punishment by withholding payments to see if anything happened.

"These people found out that the programs were essentially charity and so they stopped paying," Blumberg said. "The abysmal repayment rate was not worth it any longer, so the programs were terminated."

But the next credit projects succeeded.

The first organizations to take on microcredit were the Grameen bank, founded by Muhammed Yunus, and Accion.

"Yunus believed the poor was credit worthy and that there was an unmet need," Blumberg said. "He figured a system with money he himself borrowed, and the poor repaid. He put together solidarity groups of five people who mutually guaranteed each other's loans."

Blumberg said these are short-term working capital loans, and they may be somewhat subsidized.

"It opened a whole new horizon for getting credit to the poor," Blumberg said.

Mangum and Blumberg both described how microfinance impacts society. They said it has a big effect on the family, especially on the woman's role.

"Women tend to be better spenders," Mangum said.

Mangum said with their financial success, women have a greater say in the family and spend their money on what they want, which often includes taking care of children, food and household objects.

Blumberg has a gender stratification theory which states that enhancing a woman's economic power not only improves her own standing in her family and in her community, but increases the "wealth and well-being of nations."

While microfinance may seem a subject primarily of interest to economic and business-oriented people, it has drawn in people from other disciplines such as Mangum and Blumberg. Sociology and psychology are important aspects of the institution, according to Darden graduate student Michael Kuntz.

Kuntz said the interdisciplinary characteristic of microcredit has both positive and negative results. He explained that microcredit can draw the interest of many different kinds of people at the University. In fact, Mangum and Kuntz have set up a new club at the University about microfinance, and hope to see and talk to people from all sorts of academic backgrounds.

"Cynthia [Mangum] really wanted to raise money for a particular microfinance fund in Argentina, where she worked over the summer," Kuntz explained. "That was her motivation."

Kuntz thought of making this idea more of a network -- something sustainable that would continue after both had graduated.

"It brings people together, such as Darden and undergraduates and professors," Kuntz said. "This new network, besides bringing people into contact with each other, exposes people to something outside the college bubble and also helps students get involved, without them having to 'reinvent the wheel every year.' The path is already set."

There is, however, a negative side of microcredit being interdisciplinary, according to Kuntz.

"You have a 'looser' subject," Kuntz said. "Since so many subject areas are involved, there is overlap and you can't apply the same set of tools for analyzing as in one subject area."

Kuntz said he is interested in working with microfinance on a long-term basis.

"For me, it's a career interest," Kuntz said. "I want my work to have some sort of purpose -- microfinance is one of the few areas that addresses poverty in emerging markets in a way that's not a charity."

As Kuntz explained, microcredit does not provide handouts of money, but is an actual business that profits the people who are doing the business as well as those accepting the loans.

"It's a great relationship to set up between the business and the people -- it gives the people respect," Kuntz said.

Mangum agreed that microcredit stimulates positive relations.

"You can see the difference it's making," said Mangum. "There are banks who are lowering their interest rates because they are competing to serve these people, for their business."

As stated by Blumberg, microcredit has proven "one of the fastest and most successful developing business practices."

[Uganda] World Bank gives Uganda $135m to fight poverty

From The East African

Special Correspondent

Uganda last week received two massive grants totalling $135 million from the World Bank to support the government's ongoing poverty strategy.

In contrast to other Western governments, which have been suspending or cutting aid to Kampala, the World Bank board approved the grant although it said that the funds would be less than originally intended because of ongoing budget concerns.

The new funds are part of the Uganda Joint Assistance Strategy (UJAS), based around a core strategy of seven development partners for 2005-09. The UJAS provides the basis for the partners' support for the implementation of the government's new Poverty Eradication Action Plan covering the rest of the decade.

It has been prepared collaboratively by the UJAS partners: African Development Bank, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom's Department for International Development, and the World Bank Group.

The World Bank says that the UJAS "provides a useful strategic framework for dialogue, including issues of governance, corruption, and public financial management, while providing the space for each UJAS partner to exercise sufficient flexibility in its response to evolving trends, based on mandate and comparative advantage."

The World Bank's executive directors commended the Uganda Joint Assistance Strategy "for putting into practice the principles of the Rome and Paris Declaration on aid effectiveness."

A number the executive direc- tors also recommended that the UJAS serve as a "model" for achieving better co-ordination among development partners in support of the government's development goals.

They also welcomed the intentions of other international development partners to join the UJAS in the near future.

They commended Uganda on its "consistently good economic performance" but expressed "concern about aspects of political governance."

They agreed that the main economic challenge is to maintain high and widely shared growth, which will require addressing key constraints improving infrastructure, especially in rural areas, removing obstacles to private sector investment, and promoting faster regional and international integration.

The World Bank also urged the government to continue to strengthen its anti-corruption institutions and its systems of public financial management to reduce opportunities for corruption, intensify its efforts to bring peace and development to the north and adopt measures to address its exceptionally high population growth rate, which impedes progress toward its poverty reduction objectives and the Millennium Development Goals.

The World Bank directors, in approving the new funds, noted they were a 10 per cent reduction on what had been expected, in order to reflect their "concerns about expenditure overruns in the public administration budget."

They also expressed concern that this trend might further escalate during the current fiscal year if no initiatives are taken.

[India] Ambani for global partnership to end poverty

From New India Press

DAVOS: Mukesh D Ambani, Chairman and Managing Director of Reliance Industries, India's premier business group, on Wednesday called on participants at the World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting here to build a basis for eliminating poverty.

"There are six billion people in this world, yet most of the wealth is with a few people," said Ambani, who is also one of the co-chairs of the WEF meeting.

"Today, India and China have seven times as many mouths to feed as the US, but earn four times less."

Nonetheless, he said the world had a chance to do the right thing.

"It's in the enlightened self-interest of the global economy - rich countries, businesses and citizens - to give the other half a hand up," said Ambani.

"Technology enables us, and with creative thinking, the world has a real chance to banish poverty in 30 years," he added.

Ambani hoped the talks in Davos, being held under the theme of "The Creative Imperative", would help provide a way forward to building a global partnership.

He outlined the size of the task ahead by drawing attention to the large gaps that remained in the health, digital, shelter and energy sectors.

[Virginia] Public examines face of poverty

From The Daily Progress

By John Yellig / Daily Progress staff writer

The chapel pews were packed Tuesday night, not with worshippers, but with the curious, the concerned, with people interested in society's less visible members: the poor.

The audience came to look upon the face of poverty. If the evening's organizers were successful, the audience would leave with a newfound, or rejuvenated, dedication to helping the poor.

The event was one of four community discussions sponsored by the Quality Community Council, a local advocacy group, and the University of the Poor, the educational arm of the Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign, which works to unite the world's poor with those trying to help them. It was held at the University of Virginia Chapel.

Tim Smith, a 31-year-old double amputee from Charlottesville, said he was the face of the poor.

"A person that has nothing to hide, hides nothing," he said. "I made $15,000 last year."

The federal government considers a family of four with a net income of $19,370 to be at the poverty line, said Karen Waters, executive director of the QCC.

Subtract from that the average amount such a family must spend on rent; utilities; transportation; food, including federal assistance; and medical bills that aren't covered by health insurance, and the family has $515 left, she said.

A minimum level of child-care costs, on average, $2,300 annually, so before the family has purchased clothes, furniture, shoes and birthday and Christmas presents, they're already $1,785 in the hole, she said.

"We've got work to do," she said.

Alex Gulotta, executive director of the Legal Aid Justice Center, said people could help the poor by ending their reliance on an "industry" of poverty.

"We need poverty as a culture," he said. "We need poor people so that when I go to get that $1 hamburger ? there's someone to give it to me.

"We're all supporting it when we take for granted the poor people who serve us and when we leech off the economic system."

Many businesses, such as some used car dealerships and payday lenders, subsist off of the poor by charging them exorbitant interest rates. Gulotta's office has helped clients who have been charged as much as 39.9 percent interest on a car loan.

"When you have people down in Richmond saying we need this industry or poor people won't have access to credit, I say, 'B.S.,'" he said. "Find out who's engaging in these kinds of predatory economic practices and don't support them."

Smith, a public housing activist, said his wasn't the only face of poverty present in the chapel. He pointed to the rear of the sanctuary, where a 9-year-old boy stood.

"My son, that's the face of poverty," he said.

[China] Nation defines tasks of poverty-relief work

from Xinhua Online

Ensuring adequate food and clothing for the poor population and improving infrastructure in the poverty-stricken villages are among the priorities of China's poverty-relief work in the 11th Five-Year Plan period (2006-2010).

Other major aspects are improving the sanitary conditions for livestock and humans, improving medical conditions and carrying out universal nine-year compulsory education, according to an executive meeting of the State Council held Tuesday.

The meeting, chaired by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, spelled out key tasks of poverty-relief work in the coming five years.

While providing subsidies and aid to the disabled people, according to the meeting, efforts should be made to help the poor people develop their work capability, improve the infrastructure in poverty-stricken areas, nurture profitable businesses and mobilize the whole society to contribute to the poverty relief efforts.

[Iraq] One in five Iraqis living in poverty

From The Independent Online

Baghdad - The number of Iraqis living below the poverty line has increased since the fall of the regime of Saddam Hussein in 2003 to one-fifth of the population, according to figures released on Wednesday.

"A study conducted by the ministry in coordination with the International Monetary Fund and the United Nations Development Programme shows that 20 percent of the population is affected by poverty," Leila Kazem, director general of the department of social affairs at the labour ministry said.

"Some two million Iraqi families live under the poverty line, as defined by international criteria, which is fixed at one dollar (R6) per day per person."

The decline in living standards is caused by "the rise in unemployment, violence, and the decline in public sector and civil service jobs," she said.

"The number of people requiring social assistance by our minister is dwarfed by the large number of people in need," she said, adding that "actually only 171 000 families across the entire country receive social assistance," compared to the two million needing it.

This paltry amount of aid, which runs between 40 000 to 50 000 dinars (about R180) a month, according to the families, will be increased by a new amendment to a social security law dating from 1980.

According to the amendment, aid will be set between 70 000 dinars (about R300) minimum for a family of two and 120 000 dinars (about R510) for families with six or more.

The aid will also be extended to groups not covered by the former regime of Saddam Hussein, including the unemployed, the infirm, the elderly and low income groups.

The ministry official said a comprehensive reevaluation of the entire welfare system will take place over the next six months, with an eye towards adjusting the aid to take into account inflation.