Editorial: Poverty, it’s real

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Friday, August 29, 2014


NEVER mind all those growth figures the government loves to brandish about. We all know the reality. We just need to look around and check on the conditions of disaster victims – Pablo, Yolanda, Zamboanga, among them.

It was just recently when real rehabilitation process started in Pablo-hit areas; majority of what’s being done in Eastern Visayas after Yolanda are individual initiatives to recover backed by international humanitarian actions, there’s not much to be seen with regards government programs, and Zamboanga… the disaster that continues to be ignored (and at times denied).

In just these three disasters are hundreds of thousands who have to start from zero. That means debilitating economic displacement that requires major family decisions – like having to stop schooling for some, going abroad for cheap-paying domestic jobs or worse, being trafficked.

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The Asian Development Bank (ADB) recognizes poverty as the critical challenge that still faces Asia; which requires greater focus on food insecurity and economic vulnerability. These are two debilitating situations that every family that survives disaster in the magnitude that the thousands of families have been made to withstand in the past years.

The ADB report somehow removes the blinds we have so conveniently been looking through when measuring poverty.

“Rapid economic growth in the region has led to a dramatic improvement in living standards. Extreme poverty, when measured as income or expenditure of less than $1.25 per person per day in 2005 purchasing power parity terms, could fall to 1.4 percent by 2030, if current trends continue. A poverty rate below 3 percent is interpreted as poverty having been eradicated,” an article about the report said.

But, the report, Key Indicators for Asia and the pacific 2014, points out that the $1.25 per day measure we have been deluding ourselves with does not draw the real picture of extreme poverty.

“$1.25 a day is not enough to maintain minimum welfare in many parts of our region,” said ADB Chief Economist Shang-Jin Wei in launching the report. “A fuller understanding of poverty is needed to help policymakers develop effective approaches to address this daunting challenge.”

It then urges that additional elements be factored in when drawing the poverty picture, which are: cost of consumption specific to Asia’s poor; food costs that rise faster than the general price level; and vulnerability to natural disasters, climate change, economic crises, and other shocks.

One of its findings strikes closest to home, where it said, “Many low income households living just above extreme poverty can easily fall into extreme poverty due to natural disasters, financial crises, illness or other negative shocks.”

Taking everything in, the factors that were not considered in coming up with the $1.25 measurement of extreme poverty, the report said that this increases the extreme poverty rate for 2010 by a whopping 28.8 percentage points to 49.5 percent. Meaning, from what has been claimed to be 1.02 billion in extreme poverty, the number is really closer to 1.75-billion people.

As in any problem-solving situation, the best solutions can only be threshed out if those who are in power to provide solutions do not delude themselves with figures intended to paint a pretty picture when the real situation is far from pretty.

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on August 30, 2014.

Opinion

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