TACKLING EXTREME POVERTY


The first of the eight Millenium Development Goals is to “eradicate extreme poverty and hunger.” The quantifiable targets of this goal, to be achieved by 2015, is to reduce by half the proportion of people living on less than a dollar a day; to achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all, including women and young people; to reduce by half the proportion of people who suffer from hunger. 
The Government of Guyana has committed to these goals so that the abolition of extreme poverty is really confirming what the government has already undertaken to do and will no doubt form a part of the manifesto of the PPP/C for the next general elections. 

 
The World Bank assessment of progress to date contained in its report of June 2010 concludes that by 2005, at the global level, the number of people living on less than US$1.25 a day fell to 1.4 billion from 1.8 billion in 1990. For the period the rate of poverty declined from 46 percent to 27 percent. There are no figures for Guyana but for Latin America and the Caribbean the decline in absolute poverty is largely accounted for by Brazil.  
Figures for Guyana show that in relation to extreme poverty, progress has already been made in the past fifteen years. Dropping from an extreme level in 1992, World Bank figures show that the poverty gap at US$1.25 a day dropped from 25% in 2000 to 20%  in 2008.  In order to satisfy its commitment to the MDC, Guyana has now to reduce this figure to 10 percent by 2015. I believe, however, that it is possible to eliminate it.
 
I believe that the percentage has already gone below 20 %. But at 20% the target of 4% per year would have to be achieved to completely eliminate this aspect by 2015. 4% of 20% of a population of 750,000 is 6,000 persons. On the assumption that four persons comprise a family, we are dealing with 1,500 families and on the further assumption that two persons in each family are employed, we are looking at raising the income level of 3,000 persons to above US1.25 per day. 
 
This might appear to be a small number of people but with a number of people joining the ranks of job seekers every year and an existing unemployment situation, it is a tall order to eliminate extreme poverty in five years. But I am convinced that it can be done. 
Within the next five years Guyana is likely to see an increase in annual investment. More effective and greater capacity in bandwidth will result in greater IT investment. At least one hydro electric facility at Amalia Falls will be completed within this time. This will trigger investment in a wide range of activities, including manufacturing. These are what are certain. But a range of investment possibilities are on the table and others are being explored every day. 
 
Increased government spending in the social services, including housing, water and infrastructure are generating increased employment annually. At the same time education and medical facilities are expanding every year. Apart from providing employment, these services continually improve the quality of education and health services. Although these are not components of the objective of eradicating extreme poverty, they form part of the overall MDGs. However, the improvements in these areas aid in the overall objective of eliminating extreme poverty.
Just recently the law providing concessions to banks to enable them to lend to single women up to 500 million dollars a year at low interest rates. The establishment of this WOW facility will enable single women to set up their own small businesses. The President also recently announced the overall objective of providing one meal a day to school children at a cost of about one billion dollars a year. 
 
The area of the greatest concentration of extreme poverty is in the hinterland which have suffered historical neglect. The cost of everything is several times greater than on the coast because of distance and lack of communication infrastructure. But services, infrastructure and opportunities have been improving rapidly. These are all resulting in increasing employment opportunities. The potential for rapid reduction of extreme poverty exists in the hinterland and is likely to become  reality if the same rate of progress continues.
These continuing and the potentially additional initiatives both on the coast and in the hinterland will add to the capacity and ability of a Guyana administration to improve upon the first MDG goal of not merely halving extreme poverty but of eliminating it in five years.  This is not a fanciful objective. The successes of the poverty alleviation programmes of the recent past have demonstrated the capacity of the Guyana Government to achieve significant successes in the delivery of services which make a direct impact on poverty. There is no doubt that if these and additional efforts continue, they can have the promised effect. 

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