PANGS OF POVERTY [Archives:2000/23/Business & Economy]

June 5 2000

Abdul Hakim Hashem
Step by step the world is tilting in favor of the elite where there is no room for the poor. Day after day, the schism between the rich and the poor widens further. In 1997, it was estimated that the per capita income of the rich was 74 times that of the poor.

The UNDP 99 report on human development shows that property of three in the rich countries equals or is more than the per capita income of 600 million in a year in the poor countries.
The Economic Cooperation Organization comprising America, Europe and Japan which forms 19% of the world population controls 71% of the world product trade and 58% of its investments. The concentration of wealth is not only found in countries but in the sphere of trading activities. For example the 10 largest telecommunication companies control 86% of telecommunication services in the world.

The report also talks about the absence of balanced nutrition security which as one of the main reasons behind conflicts and tensions in Mid Asia and other countries. It is a world of huge differences and discrepancies. Neither the south is secure nor the rich North is far away from the same dangers.

Yemen ranks among the very poorest countries. It seems as if there is a faint ray of hope to better the situation, especially with the steady deterioration of the middle class in sharp contrast with the affluent upper class.
The Economic Reform Program implemented in Yemen has been very slow and ineffective. During 1990-1996 the per capita income increased by 2.9%. This is less than the rate of growth in population which reached 3.7% during the same period. The crux of the problem lies, in fact, in the inefficiency of the government in performing its duties.

Poverty…concept and indicators
Poverty is usually defined as the inability to get the basic needs. Today, the concept has changed a little bit to include deprivation of choice, participation in the political scenario, etc.
Statistics compiled in 1992 shows that about 2,6 million live under the poverty line and about 1.5 million live in abject poverty, out of which 81% live in the countryside.
In a study made by the ESCWA in 1996, the poor were estimated at 47% of the population. The rate increased from 19.1% in 1991 to 51% in 1997. In other words, the number of the poor increased from 3.2 million to about 9 million during the same period. Abject poverty increased from about 9% to 24%. That is, it swelled from 1.5 million to 4 million.

The study also shows that the expenditure on essential products for about 90% of families is more than their income.

The low-income group
The distribution of per capita real income among the different classes of society, shows that people belonging to the high income bracket possessed about 50% of the total per capita real income, while people belonging to the low-income group possessed only 6%.
Poverty has included in its fold new classes such as educated and university graduates whose wages fell about 70% during 1992-1997. The world Bank expects that the per capita income of the people of low-income group will fall by 17% due to lifting of subsidy on foodstuffs. On the other hand inflation will make it fall by 67%.

Poverty seems to be more dominant in some specific areas than others in Yemen. For example, 81% of the poor live in the countryside, 43% in Sana’a, Taiz and Ibb, 28% in Dhamar, Hodeidah and Hadhramout.

Poverty Alleviation
According to the Human Development report for 1998, Yemen lacks a concrete strategy for alleviating poverty. This can be clearly seen from the following:
1- The Reform Program affected, mainly the poor sector by taking more from its share, while the corrupt remained far away. All that has been implemented so far within the program is limited to lifting of subsidies on foodstuffs.
2- In 1997, about YRs 1 billion was allocated for the Social care program to alleviate poverty while the program needed YRs 50 billion.
3- Absence of coordination among authorities concerned
4- A large part of the funding is spent on purchasing cars and other luxurious goods for those in charge of implementing the program.
5- Lack of an effective strategy to utilize the available natural and human resources instead of depending on international funding.

Related phenomena
Health and Nutrition
In the absence of free health services, many families, especially in the countryside, can not afford to buy for themselves the basic drugs such as aspirin. In 1994 the FAO estimated that each Yemeni’s share of nutrition was 2203 calories per day (which is less than the requirement), 60% of which comes from grains and starches, 7.4% comes from meat and milk. An average man needs 2500-3000 calories to be able to carry out his normal duties.

Many poor families can not afford the education of their children. These children either go to work where they are oppressed and exploited or go to the street.

Internal immigration
The internal immigration leads to the concentration of the poor in specific places that lack the basic services. Such places in course of time can be a fertile land for crime and other acts of sabotage.

Forced bachelorhood
Refraining from marriage is also a result of poverty as youths can not meet financial requirements for marriage or shoulder the responsibility of being husbands.

Once Ali Ben Abi Taleb said: “If poverty were a man, I would kill him.” He deeply realized what negative effects poverty may have.
It is said that when poverty knocks on the door, love flies. Actually it is not only love that flies but dignity of man and virtues of women and so many other things also disappear.