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Anti-poverty drive offers nothing new, say economists

[Jordan] Jordan lacks stable, working policies and measures to alleviate poverty.  [Date picture taken: 05/24/2006] Maria Font de Matas/IRIN
Jordan lacks stable working policies and measures to alleviate poverty
Jordanians should not pin their hopes to the government's new approach to poverty alleviation, economists warned on Wednesday, saying the plan lacked specific timelines and targets. “The government isn’t bringing in anything new,” said economist and former minister Yousef Mansour, who added that the strategy was little more than “old wine in new bottles”. On 23 May, the government announced its long-term poverty-reduction strategy, which aims to take a “holistic approach” towards ending the country's chronically high poverty and unemployment levels. “During the past seven years, the government injected substantial funding into its attempts to alleviate poverty,” said Prime Minister Maruf Bakhit when announcing the scheme. “This, however, did little to ensure families' economic security in the long run.” According to the most recent study, released in 2002, more than 15 percent of the country's 5.5 million citizens live under the poverty line. The unemployment rate also hovers at around 15 percent, the study noted. Many independent experts, however, suggest the real figure could be substantially higher. This failure of successive governments to tackle the issue – which stems from a lack of a clear cut strategies and a focus on symptoms rather than root causes – has been a major concern of King Abdullah, who recently handed the PM a new mandate to “wage war” on poverty. According to Bakhit, one of the most effective tools for fighting the trend is the maintenance of a 6-percent annual growth rate, a limiting of population growth to two percent per year and the attraction of foreign investment. “We’ll implement short-term measures that can be felt immediately by citizens, as well as long-term strategies to uproot the problem,” said Bakhit. The new approach calls for the restructuring of the National Aid Fund (NAF), the country's main agency for welfare assistance; increasing the umbrella of health insurance to include citizens above the age of 60, children under six years old and pregnant women; and tightening controls on labour markets. Bakhit said the new plan will also focus on developing citizens’ ability to attain “knowledge-based” economic growth and matching educational qualifications with markets needs. He added that a US $25 million training centre would be restructured with the aim of improving the skills of Jordanian workers. Mansour, however, was not impressed. “For the past ten years, the government has been saying it would restructure the NAF,” he said. “I believe they should stop talking and get down to business.” Another former minister, speaking anonymously, was no less sceptical on the strategy’s prospects, saying that the scheme was primarily aimed at “sedating the public”. “We’re not idiots,” said the official. “This is the same strategy published six years ago but with a new title.”

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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