Development & Aid, Food and Agriculture, Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean

PERU: Storm in a Glass of Milk

Ángel Páez

LIMA, Jan 7 2011 (IPS) - During his nearly five years in office, Peruvian President Alan García has earmarked 620.5 million dollars to the “Glass of Milk” Programme (PVL), the backbone of the policies aimed at reducing malnutrition levels in the country. But the results of the nutritional supplement programme are poor.

A Ministry of Economy and Finance report seen by IPS found that five of every 10 (51 percent) of the PVL’s beneficiaries do not form part of the programme’s target group: children under six and pregnant and nursing mothers from low-income strata.

Those who do not need the extra nutrition but receive the dairy supplement anyway have been dubbed “infiltrators.”

The most serious situation is found in Lima. In the capital, which receives 30 percent of the national PVL budget, seven of every 10 beneficiaries of the programme (73 percent) are “infiltrators.”

The ineffectiveness of the PVL in reducing malnutrition is reflected in the rise in “food poverty” in Peru from 2005 to 2010, according to the National Institute of Statistics and Informatics (INEI).

The García administration, which took office in July 2006, has allotted an average of 124 million dollars a year to the PVL, distributed among the 1,838 municipalities in charge of implementing the programme.

Between 2005 and 2009, Peru’s poverty rate was reduced from 49 to 35 percent, a figure the government presents as a resounding success. But poverty statistics broken down by region, which IPS requested from the INEI, show that in 11 of the country’s 25 regions, the proportion of people living below the poverty line actually increased.

“The Peruvian government has stated that nutrition, health and education are priorities in its social spending, which means 50 percent of the funds should go towards those areas, but that hasn’t happened,” Germán Chávez Contreras, director of research at the San Pablo Catholic University in Peru, based in the southern highlands region of Arequipa, told IPS.

The proportion “does not even reach five percent, because the executive branch finances other kinds of programmes that aren’t in line with the stated priorities,” he said.

In a recent seminar held by the Economic and Social Research Consortium (CIES), which brings together universities and private consulting firms and research centres, Chávez Contreras presented the study “Criterios para la asignación del Gasto Social en programas de salud y nutrición en el Perú” (criteria for assigning social spending to health and nutrition programmes in Peru).

“That explains why we are so far from reducing malnutrition among children under five and infant mortality in children under one. The population that should be covered by the social programmes isn’t receiving the assistance,” he said.

“It’s a worrisome situation because the problem isn’t the money but poor management, which is reflected in the erroneous allotment of funds and a lack of control and monitoring of the spending,” he said. “The serious problems with the Glass of Milk are a reflection of what is going on with the rest of the government’s social programmes.”

Deputy Minister of Economy Eduardo Morón presented a report in 2009 which showed that social programmes like the PVL were losing an estimated 128.5 million dollars a year due to the problems in identifying and reaching the targeted populations.

“The most serious problems in the Glass of Milk Programme are that it is very poorly targeted; the lists of beneficiaries are out-of-date, incomplete, and contain data other than names; and worst of all, the programme does not have an impact on nutritional levels, because the people who need the glass of milk aren’t receiving it,” economist Juan Pichihua told IPS.

Pichihua is coordinator of the household targeting system, known as SISFOH, created in the Ministry of Economy and Finance to identify the population in need of social assistance from programmes like the PVL.

“It is a herculean task, but we have managed to make some headway,” said Pichihua.

“A timetable of goals has been set to improve targeting in the PVL, including drawing up a complete registry of beneficiaries,” he said. “In 2011 we should complete the evaluation of the people registered on the lists, to determine whether or not they qualify for the programme.”

And in 2012, the lists should be purged of people who should not be receiving the aid, he added.

Updating the lists of beneficiaries will imply a restructuring of the PVL budget, which has remained unchanged since the start of the García administration.

However, that task will fall to the government of García’s successor, who will be sworn in on Jul. 28, 2011.

“The municipalities are under the obligation to report how many beneficiaries there are, and identify them by name. But in 2010, of the 1,838 municipalities, only 712 fulfilled that provision,” Pichihua said.

Álvaro Monge, with the Macroconsult consulting firm, which forms part of CIES, said that of the households included in the Glass of Milk Programme, 40 percent are no longer under the poverty line and do not qualify for the nutritional supplements.

“This is something that is also seen in other programmes, like the Seguro Integral de Salud (SIS – Comprehensive Health Insurance),” Monge told IPS. “Forty percent of the households covered by the SIS, whose aim is to assist the neediest families, are no longer poor. This is happening in Lima and urban areas along the coast where poverty has been reduced the most.

“Without a doubt, social programmes like the Glass of Milk are urgently in need of an overhaul, because not only are people who do not need it receiving the assistance, but those who do need it are being left out.”

Pichihua said approximately 1.75 million of the 3.5 million beneficiaries of the PVL — out of a total population of 29 million — are “infiltrators”.

“It’s a huge loss of resources,” he lamented.

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