A Long Road Ahead

Drought, lack of proper agriculture insurance, illiteracy, and improper distribution of facilities across the country are factors which make efforts to alleviate poverty ineffective
A Long Road AheadA Long Road Ahead

Poverty today is not simply measured by inadequate income. It is manifested in restricted access to health, education and other essential services. Economic aspects of poverty focus on material needs, typically including the necessities of daily living, such as food, clothing, shelter, or safe drinking water.

The International Day for Eradication of Poverty is globally observed every year on October 17.

The United Nations says human development is much more than the rise or fall of national incomes. It is about creating an environment in which people can develop their full potential and lead productive, creative lives in accordance with their needs and interests.

Data from the Statistical Center of Iran (SCI), shows that during 2004-2013 (corresponding with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s 8-year tenure from 2005 to 2013), food energy intake (FEI) poverty -- which is defined as consumption below standard of daily calorie intake: 2300 calories per person-- increased 7-fold and 8-fold in urban and rural areas across the country, respectively, reported.

According to the SCI, in 2013, many people fell below the poverty line and the poverty limit or poverty line (minimum level of income deemed adequate in a particular country) which was a monthly income of $26 (910,000 rials) in 2004 went up to $204 (7.1 million rials) in 2013.

There has been a lot of controversy over how to define the poverty line in Iran. Criteria, numbers and amounts announced by the state and affiliated organizations (the SCI and the central bank) are generally unacceptable by social scientists and prominent economic experts.

They insist that the minimum income that state bodies say is needed to barely survive (like the $204 in 2013) is divorced from reality or it is as if those calculating the poverty line live in a different world!

Poverty experts, university teachers and independent observers have often been quoted as saying that given the state of the economy plus the systemic decline in the purchasing power, the poverty line in Tehran in 2015 for a family of five was 32 million rials ($900). In other words, any household, they maintain, making less than this amount in a month is and should be considered as poor. May be the amount in some small towns and remote rural areas would be a little less.

The State Welfare Organization (SWO) and Imam Khomeini Relief Committee (IKRC) are the two organizations with a mandate to uplift the poor through empowerment programs and vocational education.

In the fifth economic development plan (2011-2016), the two entities were tasked with empowering 10% of the underprivileged people under their coverage so as to gradually remove them from the support list. “However, the number of people in the queue receiving benefits far surpassed those who were empowered and removed from the list,” Ali Mohammad Zolfaghari, a senior official at IKRC told Salamat News.

  Poverty and Natural Disaster

Explaining the persistence of poverty in some households who are under coverage of the IKRC, he said, “Drought, lack of effective agriculture insurance, illiteracy, and improper distribution of facilities across the country are factors which make our efforts ineffective.”

As there is no proper insurance system, when a natural disaster strikes, it pushes  the affected families deeper into poverty. “With extreme weather conditions on the rise, low-income households are at a greater risk than ever before due to their environmental conditions, and economic instability.”

He pointed to the devastating 6.6-Richter earthquake in Bam, Kerman Province in 2003 that destroyed 90% of all buildings in the city. Ten years after the disaster only 95,000 new residential buildings were built by the Housing Foundation of Islamic Revolution for the survivors.

According to the Industrial Development and Renovation Organization of Iran (IDRO), in the capital Tehran alone, 205,000 residential units are in urgent need of renovation. Conditions of buildings in other cities are equally bad if not worse. Official figures show that 30% of the country’s population of 80 million lives in distressed residential units which are vulnerable to natural elements like heavy storms, strong tremors and flooding.

The IDRO says annually nearly  8% of all distressed residential units across the country are renovated, which means renovation of all such units will take 12-13 years and during this period, more buildings will certainly become distressed.

The Roads and Urban Development Ministry says the estimated life span of buildings in Iran is only 20 years.

  Poverty Levels

Zolfaghari further cited some of the different aspects of poverty and needs of people who are under IKRC coverage. “They can be categorized in different groups with different needs; for instance, we provide services to 100,000 university students who are in need of financial aid, not education grants. In other words, they are not affected by cultural and social poverty.”

Senior citizens, children and female heads of households are also more likely to suffer from various aspects of poverty. Currently, over 50,000 female heads of household are under the coverage of the committee.

He pointed to a project implemented by the IKRC by which each breadwinner is given assistance to the tune of 40 million rials ($1,150), and an interest free loan of 50 million rials ($1,500), to start self-employment schemes.

Official figures say the number of female-headed households has seen an upswing from 1.2 million in 1991 to 2.5 million in 2015, posting a 208% increase.

The least poverty levels can be seen in Tehran, Isfahan and Semnan provinces. “Generally, regions in the provinces that have been categorized as deprived areas are struggling with poverty.”

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