The Arab region is presently undergoing a period of rigorous challenges at all echelons resulting from armed conflicts, economic hardships, sectarian wars, and civil wars as well as corruption. All of this has resulted in a high humanitarian toll, unprecedented waves of refugees and displaced people, destructions of many cities and towns which directly affected people’s livelihoods and standards of living. Currently, Arabs face a critical challenge: multidimensional poverty.
The World Bank has issued a report entitled: “Poverty and Shared Prosperity in 2018”, presenting a new multi-dimensional poverty measure, taking into account societal poverty without restricting the calculations on household consumption and international poverty line which stood at US$1.9 per person per day. The report introduced 5 new standards which would not negatively affect the numbers of poor people in the world, but rather in the Arab world as well.
New criteria of poverty
Alarmingly enough are ratios and figures of poverty among children in the Arab world. According to the UNICEF, one in four children in the region lives in poverty
The report introduced a new definition of poverty based on 5 standards in order to help reduce the number of people living in extreme poverty to less than 3 per cent by 2030. Since its establishment in 1945, the World Bank has set a specific definition of poverty line as “the lowest level of income a person or family needs to be able to provide for an adequate standard of living in a country” and has set US$1 per person per day.
However, this has changed in 2008 when the bank raised the amount to US$1.25 in light of varying purchasing power scales. Recently, some countries had their own calculations for poverty line. For example, poverty line for Americans who are less than 65 years old is $15 per capita per day and $25 for a family of four. This of course does not apply t citizens in Somalia.
Though the rates of poverty line have dropped sharply since 1990s from 36 per cent to about 10 per cent by end of 2017, this is still deemed high as the number of people in acute poverty is about one billion, which is 20 per cent of world population. Thus, calculating poverty rate on the basis of monetary income alone does not help set the ground for objective and realistic comparisons and contrasts between the stated levels of poverty and levels of prosperity among different states or even within a single country over a period of time.
5 standards to define poverty and acute poverty
Experts believe that poverty should be addressed after reaching a clear-cut definition of what is meant by poverty and severe poverty. For this purpose, 5 criteria have been classified. The first is based on individual and family income. This is the old standard. Statistics reveal that more than 50 per cent of world population lives under US$5 per day.
The second criterion is the level of education. The World Bank believes that the group entitled for education and do not regularly get their education fall under poverty line. The third is the infrastructure and public utilities in any country. Therefore, those who do not have access to clean and potable water fall under poverty line.
The same applies to those who do not enjoy sanitation services or are deprived of electricity, good roads and so forth. The fourth is the level of health services. Those who do not receive good health services fall under poverty line. Those who have no equipped health facilities and children who do not receive vaccines are deemed poor by default. Also, malnourished people and the elderly who are not fully taken care of in hospitals and health centers are considered poor.
The fifth criterion is the security level. Individuals living in high risk, insecure and perilous communities fall under poverty line. In addition, countries that witness natural and man-made disasters are automatically described as states under poverty line. This of course includes countries with high rates of floods, earthquakes, fires, and civil and sectarian wars.
Where do Arab countries stand?
Arab countries face serious poverty cutback challenges since both the extent and intensity of poverty are projected to be extremely high. Based on these five standards, poverty levels worldwide will hike. Poverty rates in the Arab region will rocket too. For example, if calculated based on monetary income in some Arab states such as Iraq, the percentage will increase from 2.5% to 10.5 per cent based on three scales: income, education and infrastructure. However, the ratio will almost reach 29 per cent if the 5 collective criteria are taken into account.
The total number of extremely poor people in 10 Arab countries (Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Jordan, Sudan, Mauritania, Comoros, Iraq and Yemen) reached 38.2 million, representing 13.4 of population of these countries. However, the number of the poor in these 10 states alone amounted to 117 million, recording 41 per cent of the population of these countries.
If Syria and other war-torn Arab states are included in the percentage, the number will hike to 180 million Arabs who are under poverty. This would simply be interpreted by figures as 50 per of Arab are extremely poor. The remaining 50 per cent would be divided into vertical stratum to show levels of poverty and only less than 10 per cent will be the middle class in the Arab world, whose depletion would lead to a societal malfunction.
Alarmingly enough are ratios and figures of poverty among children in the Arab world. According to the UNICEF, one in four children in the region lives in poverty, often deprived of the most indispensable requirements such as apposite accommodation and potable water.
Poverty in rural areas
In the Arab region, poverty is widespread in rural areas more than in urban provinces. Rural population constitute 84 per cent and 68 per cent of the acutely poor and poor in the Arab world. This percentage is very alarming as governments should address issues in rural areas since they would be manipulated to be extremist and radical later on.
Therefore, education is very important to improve the living conditions, health services and infrastructure of the rural areas to avert them being a target by extremists and radicals who would find in these communities the best incubator to flourish and nourish. Thus, states should not only make significant strides to reduce poverty, but also to improve education, infrastructure and health services to make up for any income shortfalls.
Shehab Al-Makahleh is Director of Geostrategic Media Center, senior media and political analyst in the Middle East, adviser to many international consultancies. He can be reached at: @shehabmakahleh and @Geostrat_ME.