Friday, December 14, 2007

About 2.7 million Malawians living in ultra poverty: Any escape

People have used the clichés like: Living below poverty line or sometimes, Living on less than one US dollar a day: so much so that the clichés meaning has been diluted. However the clichés remain as meaningful as they were 10 years ago.

From a distance these clichés would look like some rhetoric economic jargon formulated somewhere in the corridors of Bertwood compound in the suburb of the New York in the USA.

However, as foreign as they might look or sound, realism stares squarely on the face of over millions of Malawians. At least 22 percent of Malawians are living way below the poverty line.

Facts on the ground reveal that over 2.7 million people in Malawi are not really living on assumed one US dollar a day; they are actually living on some money basically I the ranges of below K44 a year.

Preposterous as it may sound but it is real. Human Development Index—2006 and 2005 Integrated Household Survey indicates that about 2.7 million Malawians are living in ultra poverty.

In short in Malawi there are people cannot afford a square meal a day in their lives, the basic United Nations (UN) indicator of poverty. These people are actually below the 52 percent of Malawians—about 6.4 million who are leaving below poverty line or they are earning less the minimum one US dollar a day.

Loose mathematics would lead to a conclusion that some Malawians—in ultra poverty category—would earn about K3.60 a month and a shocking K0.01 tambala a day. Now this is poverty.

For instance, take a Members of Parliament (MP) in Malawi—for argument sake—who gets over K300, 000 a month, mathematically getting about k10, 000 a day, obviously these MPs live way above poverty line and contrast with a K0.01 a day of the voter—the person who put them in the office.

However, the sad story about Malawi or Malawians is that the MP’s K10, 000 a day take home package is as good as K0.01 the poorest of the poorest get a day because, both living slightly below or slightly above the poverty line are, effectively the same. Vulnerable!

Some million of Malawians could be slightly above the poverty line, or slightly below the poverty line, some would be way below the poverty line while other would be up above poverty line, but through an umbilical code of some kind they are joined ,one fact remains that they are all exposed to poverty.

“Any slight change on the economy it would mean a change in the whole status of people in the country. lt would be easy for those living above the poverty line to fall below or those below to go up depending o the situation, people in Malawi are vulnerable,” said Dr Blessing Chisinga, a political scientist at Chancellor College University of Malawi main campus.

Chinsinga made this observations when he was presenting a paper during the workshop in Blantyre when Institute for Policy Research and Social Empowerment (IPR SE).

Chisinga presented a case in his presentation titled Understanding Poverty and Vulnerability where it was indicated that all almost all Malawians would be regarded as simply poor because most of the people living above poverty line in Malawi re merely ‘poor people of tomorrow’.

“One can be vulnerable but not necessarily poor especially for those earning their live hoods just above the poverty line—these people are sometimes referred to as tomorrow poor since their live hoods are precarious and may not be able to withstand any serious shock.

“Vulnerability does not simply refer to those people who are likely to become poor in future due to an unexpected shock but also those who will remain poor those who will fall deeper into poverty and those who may fall into poverty due to unpredictable fluctuations such as seasonality,” said Chisinga in his presentation.

“If the Kwacha could fall today say with 50 percent, most of the people who are slightly above poverty line today would fall under, that is the risk we are living in,” he said.s

Currently only 37 percent of Malawians live above poverty line and out of these about 45 percent are more vulnerable because they live slightly above the poverty line while 63 percent lives below poverty line with 22 percent living way below.

These would simply mean Malawians are technically poor. This is not new fact. Currently Malawi, under 2006 Human Development Index complied by United Nations Development Programme, is ranked 166 out of 178 of the poorest countries in the world despite the micro-economic growth that have been achieved in recent years.

Since 1995 several interventions, through formulation of well articulated juicy polices like Poverty Alleviation programme, Poverty Eradication, Targeted in Put programme, Vision 2020, Malawi Growth Development Strategy and the fertiliser subsidy programmes. Malawi was expected to move an itch out of poverty, but nay Malawians are as poor as they were several years ago.

These Safety Nets have been effective in mitigating several economic hardship but they have failed to alleviate poverty for the past 11 years.

In 1990 Malawi was ranked 138 out of the 178 countries that UNDP and in 2005 Malawi is still the poorest country with a steady decline in health care delivery, education, economic growth and general living standards.

Institute for Policy Research and Social Empowerment (IPRSE), a Non Government Organisation (NGO) specialised on policy matters, is working on a new concept. Social Cash Transfer as a social programme.

The programme is being piloted in four districts of Mchinji, Likoma, Salima and Machinga where over 3 000 house holds are receiving money, on monthly basis for their basic needs.

IPRSE Director of Programmes and Development Paul Msoma said Social Cash Transfers programme aims to provide basic social protection to sections of the population, who for some reasons, beyond their control, are unable to provide for themselves.

“The Cash transfer Programme is attached to conditions like regular attendance of schools and health services. In contrast to emergency programmes which are designed for temporary relief, cash transfer scheme are permanent programmes that transfer cash on the regular and reliable basis to House Hold or persons that meet certain criteria,” he said.

However, the pre-condition for the establishment of the Social Cash Transfer are political will, administrative capacity and financial resources.

“Political relevant groups like government, political parties, parliament, religious leaders and civil society should understand this programme is apolitical, he said.

The pilot project has proved that House Holds receiving grants use them for food, health care for family, for basic education and investment in physical capital that can provide a future source of income.

“The additional purchasing power to the House Hold has a multiplier effect and strengthens the local economy and the empirical evidence show that Social Cash Transfer kick starts virtuous cycle.

The programme is also being implemented in South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Zambia and Ethiopia in Africa, in Asia the programme is being implemented in China, India, Bangladesh and Nepal while in Latin America the programme is being implemented in Brazil, Mexco, Honduras and Nicaragua.

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