Date: Sat, 17 Jan 98 14:13:07 CST
From: rich@pencil (Rich Winkel)
Subject: No End In Sight to Latin American Poverty
/** econ.saps: 239.0 **/
No End to Poverty in Sight
By Zoraida Portillo, IPS, 5 January 1998
LIMA, Jan 5 (IPS) - With the approach of a new century, the nations of Latin American nations - while accelerating the process of urban modernization and economic liberalization - are struggling to meet the basic needs of their people, particularly in rural areas.
Nearly 40 percent of the region's rural population is poor, meaning that their income fails to cover the cost of minimum food requirements. Worse still, 20 percent of Latin Americans live in absolute poverty - based on their housing conditions, education, access to health care and average income - and 48 percent of the rural population in Latin America lives in conditions of extreme poverty.
The countries of Central America suffer the greatest urban poverty, and rural poverty is highest in the Andean nations, according to latest statistics from specialised agencies.
Felix Murillo, president of the Inter-American Conference of Statistics (CIE), said that Guatemala and Honduras have the most serious levels of poverty: 79.9 and 70 percent respectively.
In Guatemala, 68 percent of households lack potable water, and illiteracy among those over 15 years old is 35.8 percent . In Honduras, 43.2 percent of the houses have no running water and illiteracy is 32 percent.
Nicaragua is the Central American country with the highest levels of extreme poverty: 39.9 percent, attributed mainly to unemployment and a drop in income. Illiteracy there is not as high as in neighboring countries (24 percent), and 46 percent of the population is covered by basic services.
"In many of our countries, the precariousness of living conditions is so severe that it looks more like last century than a new one," says Murillo.
He also expressed surprise at some of the levels of illiteracy in some regions in Latin America. "Guatemala is at the top of the list, but there are places where almost two thirds of the population is illiterate, like some of the Andean countries."
In the Andean regions, there is also a serious lack of access to health services, which leads to "unacceptably high rates of maternal and infant mortality," according to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).
The Andean region is where communities endure the highest levels of extreme poverty in South America. In Bolivia, for example, almost 80 percent of the rural population suffers from extreme poverty. In Peru, that sector represents almost 60 percent of the population, according to official figures.
Among the Central American countries with the lowest rates of poverty are Costa Rica (6.9 percent) and Panama (18 percent). The sample does not include Cuba, where it is difficult to obtain reliable official data.
One of the most surprising news is the growth of poverty in Venezuela, a country which always had a high standard of living until last decade. According to Murillo, the percentage of Venezuelans living in extreme poverty reached 20 percent in 1997.
The Central Office of Statistics and Information (OCEI) acknowledged that 68.7 percent of the population is poor and cannot satisfy basic needs.
That percentage is increasing due to overcrowding and impoverished housing conditions, a rise in school dropout rates, and a deterioration of the country's economic conditions, according to the OCEI.
The minimum income declared by Venezuelan government in June 1996 is eight percent below the cost of the basic monthly supply of food, according to experts.
Today, Venezuela occupies fourth place in Latin America in terms of percentage of people living in poverty. It is preceded by Guatemala (79.9 percent), Bolivia (70.5 percent) and Honduras (70). Among the countries with the lowest rates of extreme poverty are Uruguay (1.9 percent), Argentina (5.5) and Paraguay (6.6).
Most of the statistics were compiled based on household surveys, conducted in several cities in each country and sponsored by international organizations such as the Inter American Development Bank, the World Bank and the Economic Committee for Latin America (ECLA).
In a poll conducted in mid-1996 in nine countries in Latin American, more than half the people surveyed mentioned poverty as the most serious obstacle for development.
Origin: ROMAWAS/DEVELOPMENT-LATIN AMERICA/
[c] 1997, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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