In a bid to spread the word for a global partnership in development among Egyptians, eight feluccas sailed down the Nile last week reaching their last port of call, in Cairo earlier this month.
Organized by the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the aim of the Nile tour, which included seven governorates in Upper Egypt, was to raise the profile of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in Egypt.
"We also wanted to remind the government of its promises to achieve the millennium goals as well as motivate individuals to try to reach them", Ola al-Tanani, the communications officer at UNDP Egypt, told IRIN.
Starting at Aswan on 17 October, the feluccas sailed to Luxor, Qena, Souhag, Assiut, Minya, Beni Suef before arriving in Cairo on 8 December. At each stop workshops, seminars and other events were held to develop a better understanding of the MDGs.
In 2000, Egypt was one of 189 countries to sign a UN Declaration promising to halve global poverty by 2015. "Yet poverty remains a very serious problem in Egypt," noted Nagla' El Ehwany, deputy director of the Egyptian Centre for Economic Studies (ECES), an independent non-profit research institution founded in 1992 to promote economic reforms in Egypt.
"Although the Ministry of Social Solidarity is training poor people, especially women with families to support, and providing them with allowances to help them find work to provide for themselves, these efforts remain minimal in this highly populated country," she explained to IRIN.
More people living in absolute poverty
In October, the UN resident coordinator, James Rawley, confirmed that the proportion of Egyptians living in absolute poverty has risen despite relatively rapid economic growth this decade.
Between 2000 and 2005, absolute poverty rates rose from 16.7 percent to 19.6 percent of the total population, which was estimated in July 2006 at 80 million people. "One in every five Egyptians cannot meet their basic living needs," he added, quoting an ECES survey also conducted in 2006.
"Economic growth accelerated in Egypt during the past few years but poverty rates did not improve as growth was not associated with improved income distribution. An important reason behind poverty is the high level of unemployment from which eight million people suffer," Nagla said.
"The government is working on reducing poverty rates but its efforts remain insufficient", said Alia Al Mahdi, an economic professor at Cairo University.
"The Social Fund for Development is targeting needy young people and providing them with low-interest loans to start their own projects or expand their already established activities. But the fund has still a long way to go until it reaches a larger number of beneficiaries... The criterion to define low income and needy families does not exist."
Photo: Jeff Black/IRIN
|Between 2000 and 2005, absolute poverty rates in Egypt rose from 16.7 percent to 19.6 percent of the total population,according to the UN|
New approaches to alleviate the growing poverty rates are triggering debate in Egypt. The government is currently studying a plan to revamp its subsidies' system, which includes replacing in-kind subsidies, such as food rationing cards, with monetary allowances. "The present subsidies system proved to be a failure because it doesn't go to the targeted people," Alia said.
However, she does not support the suggestion to change the format of subsidies: "Even if we found a way to reach the poorest by asking them to register their names and addresses, for example, altering the present subsidies to direct monetary support is not a good idea. It will lead to a hike in prices which will affect everybody, the rich as well as the poor," she said.
"Ending poverty and extreme hunger is key to achieving the MDGs," said Khaled Mansour, WFP senior regional communications officer.
Speaking to IRIN, Mansour said: "WFP is working with the government on its food-based Social Protection Scheme including food subsidies and school meals. In addition to providing food to students at schools, we are encouraging girls and street children to enroll in schools... we are also trying to improve the standards of living of vulnerable communities, with a special focus on women who could benefit from land-ownership and micro-credit schemes; they could purchase livestock and start small businesses".
There are eight MDGs: eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality and empowering women, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, ensuring environmental sustainability, and developing a global partnership for development.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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