Centered on Civil Liberties & Political Issues, Human Development & Socioeconomic Matters
At the onset of this millennium, the World Bank (WB) established a set of international development targets, known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), to reduce poverty by half on 2015. On that point, during the annual meeting of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) held in Dubai, in September 2003, James Wolfenshon, then-president of the WB declared that over one billion people survive on less than one dollar a day. While, on the other hand, one billion people, more or less, control more than 80 percent of the global Gross Domestic Products (GDP).
Eight years later, in 2011, at the spring meetings of the WB and IMF in Washington, Robert Zoellick, president of the WB at that time, forewarned that the world is “one shock away from a full-blown crisis”. He added that the continual ascent of food prices is the main threat to poor nations, who risk “losing a generation”.
In spite of that, the World Development Indicators (WDI) 2012 of the WB acclaim that the global poverty indicator of those who live on less than $1.25 per day has been cut down by half (from 44.3% in 1990 to 22.0% in 2012). In contradiction with 2012 WDI, the WB issued on February 29, 2012, a “Global Poverty Update” wherein it manifests that “At the current rate of progress there will still be around 1 billion people living below $1.25 per day in 2015”.
Obviously, the World Bank update has reconfigured the original goals of the Millennium Development Goals, which were set to reduce global poverty by half, and not just reduce the number of poor people who live on less than $1.25 a day only. However, the same global update also reports that, “The number of people living between $1.25 and $2.00 has almost doubled from 648 million to 1.18 billion between 1981 and 2008”, which made the WB’s Update inconsistent to provide the real picture of global poverty.
In any case, the result is that the world has 2.47 billion hungry souls in 2008, who live on less than $2 a day, compared with 2.59 billion in 1981, let alone the number of poor who were reapportioned into another poverty brackets due to a series of adjustments of wages resulted from long years of recurring inflation; and what the last four years of worldwide economic recession have added to the global poverty strata.
It is hard to believe that the World Bank, one of the few leading international organizations, was unable to reduce the number of poor, who subsist on less than two dollars a day, by more than 120 million people in three decades . Most likely, the mass majority of those 120 million people were Chinese citizens who made it themselves. What a pity!
Given the actual depreciation in the purchasing value of 1.25, 2.00, or 5.00 $ for the last 30 years or so, the mere fact is that poverty has only been reduced by half in the statistical data sheets of the World Bank as a resultant of some unrealistic custom-built indicators. Unfortunately, poverty is still intensifying and spreading out far and near to which the projected poverty reduction of the World Bank became purposeless and beside the point of its primary objectives.
Away from the delinquency of the international community and underachievement of its world organizations, many people wonder about the status quo of poverty in the Middle East region, the Arab world in particular. With the exception of the six founding states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), poverty is extensively stretching out like a wildfire from Morocco on the African east coast of the Atlantic all the way through Sudan and Iraq to Syria on the northeast coast of the Mediterranean Sea, especially among low-income classes and jobless people.
This, however, is due to many economic and sociopolitical reasons. To name a few: the first arises from long years of continuous inflation and inordinate depreciation of the spending value of wages, which in effect degraded the economic status of the middle class and crippled the working class. The second reason is imputed to the prolonged presence of high level of unemployment, especially among the youth, and longstanding lack of adequate governance of state resources.
The direct visual effect is that the social and economic gaps between the rich and poor are widening here and there in the Arab world as never before. Rich people are becoming wealthier and more well off, while the poor are unfairly becoming poorer. It is very consequential to note that impoverished people blame the state authorities, political leaderships and economic elites for their ill-being, while most of the wealthy tend to lay the blame on the poor themselves. Rationally, it is unfair to impute poorness of the poor solely to their own bad arrangements and ignore the responsibility of governments and parliaments for their flawed economic and social policies, let alone the responsibility of economic elites.
The mildest illustration of irresponsible governance of Arab authorities is Lebanon’s government. Since its formulation in spring of 2011 as yet, the current Lebanese government, headed by Prime Minister Najib Mikati and backed by Hezbollah, has not provided any socioeconomic plan or framework to tranquilize the consequences of unusual high levels of unemployment and poverty. Mr. Mikati’s government has neither made any surgical economic measures nor created social mechanisms through which it can improve the conditions of the badly off and daily wage earners, who were born into poverty and could not have the proper education—or most importantly, political patronage—to find their way out of it.
To make things worse, the government has ignored the inordinate presence of foreign cheap laborers, thus making it impossible for the underprivileged and under-educated, especially those living in remote rural areas, to find fair paying jobs since foreign workers will work for lower wages.
As for the issue of youth unemployment, Mikati’s government has fell short to generate the required business-friendly environment for foreign and domestic investments on which the Lebanese job market can grow to absorb the accumulated number of jobless college graduates. Disregarding the reality that Lebanon’s economy can only provide 12,000 decent paying jobs per year, at best, from which more than 20,000 new graduate jobseekers are abandoned each year to either emigrate or join the unemployed force.
Unfortunately, given the country’s history of irresponsible governance and the failing performance of Mikati’s government, the poor will remain poor so long as political leaders and business magnates possess overwhelming influence on the authorities to officialize their notorious trade monopolization and shady commercial transactions, regardless of the detrimental consequences of such practices on the economy and low-income classes.
For the Lebanese and all Arabs, public lectures and government promises about a gettable economic growth does not mean much when the mass majority of the populations are struggling just to live on the day, seeing that real socioeconomic progress usually implies an upturn in the living standards and downslope in the rate of unemployment. Yet, the Arab people reckon that the main origin of their hardships and pennilessness stems from improper economic planning, misgovernance, corruption of state officials and administrators, and many greedy moneymaking cartels.
Obviously, there are many pressing socioeconomic issues, like inflation, unemployment, healthcare and public education, which need urgent reforming measures in order to confine any further escalating of poverty and put off the sparks of the foreseen social uprising.
After all, the remedies for poverty will only emerge when Arab governments start, before long, a real political, social and economic reform process that can provide justice, equality and development to all citizens.
In the meantime, Arab political leaderships should keep in mind that poverty is the matrix of all troubles.
Author’s Note: This article is also published at Arabian Gazette