Poverty at a national level is decreasing in Syria, with close to a three percent drop, according to a new report.
Latest statistics show that it the poverty level fell from 14.3 percent in 1996 to 11.4 percent in 2004.
The new figure is for the period of 2003-2004 and shows that almost 2 million, out of a total population of some 18 million people, are still classified as poor.
The report was carried out by the Syrian State Planning Commission and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). It was launched in the capital, Damascus on 7 July.
Dividing Syria into three zones - southern, northeastern and coastal - the findings said that the per capita expenditure of the poor grew but at a below average rate in urban centres, except for urban centres in the coastal areas.
In the rural southern and urban coastal regions poverty strongly decreased and the per capita expenditure also rose with better income distribution, the report said. However, it also noted that conversely, the per capita expenditure in rural northeastern regions fell and there was an increase in poverty there.
British economist Angus Blair, speaking at the launch of the report in the Syrian capital, Damascus, noted that the significance of the report was not simply the economic data it published.
"The meeting on alleviating poverty was refreshing for the fact that the government has firstly made public note of it, when many states in the Arab world ignore the issue entirely, and secondly, by commitment of the government to make alleviation of poverty even more of a priority. This clear policy commitment is to be commended highly," said Blair.
Experts stress that poverty is linked directly with educational attainment, as more than 18 percent of the poor population are illiterate and 57 percent of the unemployed belong to the lower educational categories in Syria.
The unemployment rate in the country increased from 5 percent in 1981 to 11.6 percent in 2002.
With this in mind, Syrian officials said they are committed to achieving the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) established to fight poverty, although no details were given on how much progress had been made so far.
"The government will meet the target it set in light of the five-year plan (2006-2010) which is based on MDGs," Abdallah al-Dardari, Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs said.
Al-Dadari stressed that the role of the government in the development process will be expanded with special emphasis on the social dimension, and raising the living standards of people. He noted that the rate of poverty in Syria was lower than that of neighbouring countries such as Jordan.
Dr Heba El-Laithy, the principal author of the report said the findings show that poverty generally is more prevalent in rural than in urban areas of Syria.
"It [the report] is the first output from an ongoing process of cooperation between the government and the UNDP Syria country office, to devise a poverty reduction strategy for Syria. It is a contribution to the preparation of a comprehensive poverty reduction strategy for Syria," Ali Al-Zaatari, UNDP Resident representative said.