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PERU: On Track to Meeting Poverty Reduction Target

Milagros Salazar

LIMA, Oct 21 2009 (IPS) - Peru is only one percentage point away from halving the proportion of its people living in extreme poverty, one of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) agreed by the international community in 2000, according to a United Nations report.

However, in the view of sociologist Héctor Béjar, it makes no sense to celebrate the achievement of this particular numerical target when one-third of the Peruvian population is hungry and rural areas continue to be sadly neglected.

The extreme poverty rate was cut from 23 percent in 1991 to 12.6 percent in 2008, putting this country very close to meeting the first of the eight MDGs: halving the proportion of extremely poor people – defined as living on less than one dollar a day – between 1990 and 2015.

The MDGs were adopted by the international community in 2000, as a platform to drastically reduce inequality and poverty, and to promote health, education, gender equity, sustainable development and fairer trade.

The U.N. Resident Coordinator in Peru, Jorge Chediek, highlighted the country’s achievement in cutting total poverty to 36.2 percent between 2004 and 2008, the result of 3.5 million people having been lifted out of poverty, which he called “an enormously fast rate of change.”

“These figures are endorsed by the United Nations, the public sector and Peruvian civil society organisations. I would like to confirm the commitment of the U.N. to achieving the Millennium Goals, and the Peruvian government’s support,” said Chediek.


The report on Peru’s progress between 2004 and 2008 towards meeting the MDGs was drawn up by 120 U.N. experts and members of 11 cabinet ministries and other state bodies, he said.

During the Oct. 17 launch of the document at the government palace in Lima, President Alan García gave an enthusiastic speech in which he said Peru “is winning the battle against poverty.”

But Béjar, the coordinator in Peru for the Global Call to Action against Poverty (GCAP), told IPS that the government will fulfil the MDGs by 2015, but only as statistics “on paper.” He said the targets set by the U.N. member states were conservative from the outset, and that they do not indicate the quality of the progress achieved.

The activist complained that social organisations were not invited to validate the results in Peru’s official report on the MDGs.

GCAP Peru compiled its own parallel report on the fulfilment of MDG targets, based on the official statistics. While the document recognises that Peru is on track to meeting the first goal, of cutting the extreme poverty rate in half, it also says that in the general population, more people are hungry now than two years ago, and in the rural areas hunger is more widespread now than it was in 2004.

According to the report, authored by economist Raúl Mauro, the reason is that poor families cannot afford to buy as much food now, especially in areas distant from the capital, because of higher international commodity prices.

“Food policies have only been implemented in Lima, to the exclusion of poorer families in the rest of Peru. This lack of equity in times of crisis favours centralism in Lima,” says the report, which was seen by IPS.

“The gap between the rural and urban nutritional deficits has remained the same; the state has not made efforts to close the consumption gap. Policies need to be designed to promote equity in food consumption. The state should guarantee food security all over the country, not just in the capital,” says the non-governmental report.

But according to Chediek, 81 percent of the target for reducing child undernutrition has been met. The proportion of children under five with low weight for age was 10.8 percent in 1991 and 5.9 percent between 2007 and 2008, approaching the target of 5.4 percent, he said.

But in the view of GCAP, underweight children are just the tip of the iceberg, since the problem of chronic undernutrition, which affects long-term growth and so is characterised by low height for age, is several times greater and therefore should take priority in public policies.

Chronic undernutrition, where children do not have enough to eat for long periods of time so that their physical and mental growth is retarded, has receded significantly in Peru, according to the United Nations report: from 36.5 percent of children under five in 1992, to 21.9 percent in 2008, based on official statistics.

But these figures are questioned on methodological grounds. “The measurements taken are of increasingly poor quality,” because of errors in sampling, data collection, or for other reasons, the GCAP report says.

When the statistics are examined by province, measurement problems are even more evident, Béjar said. “In 2000, poor data were produced in only four provinces, while in 2007 the statistics were poor in eight provinces, covering one-third of the national territory.”

Data collection problems aside, children in rural areas have three times the rate of chronic undernutrition than those in urban areas, the sociologist said.

“Improvements in nutrition have occurred among families in the higher income quintiles, while among the poorer quintiles, the extent of undernutrition has not changed. This is an urgent problem that the state should tackle,” the GCAP document says.

In Béjar’s view, the MDGs are “a minimal set of measurements, useful only for making international comparisons of progress in different countries.”

In contrast, “reducing poverty is a far more complex matter. There are a series of dimensions of poverty that aren’t being measured, like its relationship with violence, lack of social values, human trafficking, and so on,” Béjar said.

GCAP is also concerned about the sixth MDG: combating HIV/AIDS and other major diseases, like malaria and tuberculosis. Peru accounts for 25 percent of all tuberculosis cases notified in the Americas, and it is still a leading cause of death in this country.

Access to water is difficult in rural areas, and is linked to the seventh MDG, which calls for sustainable environmental management.

Water supply has been extended to 87 percent of households in the urban areas in Peru’s coastal region, but has diminished from 39 to 35 percent in the rural areas, from 58 to 55 percent in the Andean highlands and from 48.5 to 46 percent of households in the tropical jungle region. “Evidently the Peruvian government has chosen Lima and turned its back on the provinces,” the report says.

“It’s important for the state to realise that the impact of climate change will increase the difficulty of obtaining water, as water sources start drying up or become polluted,” Béjar said.

In regard to education, the U.N. report emphasised that 97.6 percent of the population can read and write, and that the proportion of students who completed primary school rose from 56 to 77 percent between 1994 and 2008.

As for gender equity, the official report says that the proportion of women politicians grew from 7.5 percent in 1990 to 30 percent in 2008.

Child mortality has been reduced by two-thirds over the last five years. However, according to Chediek, greater efforts are needed to reduce the maternal mortality rate.

The Peruvian government must aim at delivering high-quality services, and formulating more sophisticated social policies which should be regarded not as an expense, but as an investment in development, Chediek said.

“The MDGs were approved in 2000, when neoliberal policies were all the rage, and the United Nations had lost the reformist zeal it had in 1948, when it adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” Béjar said.

“If the U.N. still exists in 2015, the deadline for the MDGs, these goals should be reformulated so that their measurement is a much closer reflection of reality,” he said.

 
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