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From newsdesk@igc.apc.org Sun Oct 22 12:50:24 2000
Date: Sat, 21 Oct 2000 21:52:13 -0500 (CDT)
From: IGC News Desk
Subject: TRINIDAD & TOBAGO: Wanted: A New Type of Poverty Alleviation
Article: 107433
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
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Wanted: A New Type of Poverty Alleviation Programme

By Peter Richards, IPS, 19 October 2000

PORT OF SPAIN, Oct 19 (IPS) - Ann Toussant is one of the lucky poor here. As soon as the media revealed that the young mother of three was living in a room with no windows or doors and no furniture, and that her six month old son had almost died from a diet of only water sweetened with sugar, the charities came flocking to her door.

But for the thousands of other poor people in this southern Caribbean twin-island republic, there is very little help forthcoming. The assistance gets smaller each year, as poverty spreads.

"Poverty and homelessness have become widespread in this country," says Diane Seukeran, the former President of the South Chamber of Industry and Commerce.

Some children rights activists say the result has been a rise in the number of street children.

"There are so many families living in extreme poverty. This is one of the reasons why parents are sending their children out onto the streets to beg," says Judy Wilson, who in 1999 founded Rainbow Rescue, a shelter for homeless children.

Sister Roberta O'Flahert, director of the Credo Foundation for Justice said many of the "street children" tend to move around, making it difficult to ascertain just how many of them live on the streets. "Few of them have absolutely no family member. They may live in a home where they are abused or live in extreme poverty, so bit by bit they go on to the streets to hustle," she says.

And all this is taking place in a country that is considered to be doing quite well economically.

Trinidad and Tobago is expected to record a 5.1 percent growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2000, despite an inflation rate of 3.4 percent and unemployment hovering at 11.7 percent. Last year the GDP rate was 5.7 percent.

"In a country where on paper we appear to be economically strong, the poor man can only be very, very angry when he cannot benefit in any way from that growth," says attorney Wendy Fitz William, the 1998 Miss Universe winner, an activist among the poor and HIV affected persons.

Despite its oil and energy based resources that make it a standout among the tiny economies of the English-speaking Caribbean, 35.9 percent of Trinidad and Tobago's population live below the poverty line of 1,200 dollars a year.

The annual per capita income here, according to a 1996 report by the Ministry of Social Development is 4,230 dollars.

Clive Pantin, head of the non-governmental organisation, The Foundation for the Enrichment and Enhancement of Life (FEEL), says it is necessary now for governments to re-think their position on alleviating poverty in Trinidad and Tobago.

"Pumping millions of dollars into the Unemployed Relief Programme (URP) and special projects, a staple in poverty policies of governments here, has not helped the poor in this country," he insists.

Professor Ramesh Deosaran of the University of the West Indies who has just released a book entitled 'Psychonomics and Poverty: Towards Governance and Civil Society' speaks of the new direction needed to deal with the issue.

The study says that the poor do not constitute a homogenous category, but vary in terms of their social, psychological attributes and their skills. As such, Deosaran advocates different interventionist strategies to deal with poverty alleviation.

"Poverty has regained its ground so much so that recent demonstrations were mobilised around the theme of poverty and poor nations," he said arguing for the poor to "speak for themselves" as a premise on which policy prescriptions must be based.

Deosaran says the high number of persons living below the poverty line has contributed significantly to "civil disorder and the soaring rate of crime".

Last year, a total of 16,208 serious crimes were reported to the police, with burglary, armed robbery and drug trafficking offences topping the list. There were 92 murders during 1999.

But despite such problems, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has lauded Trinidad and Tobago fors efforts to eradicate poverty. The 1999 UNDP report ranked the country fifth among developing countries.

"Not only has our success in reducing human poverty earned us the ranking of number five among all developing nations, Trinidad and Tobago also has earned a better ranking than such developed countries as the United States, Ireland and the United Kingdom," said Prime Minister Basdeo Panday.

Panday said that the government was laying much emphasis on education as a key strategy for dealing with poverty, which he described as being of a structural nature. "Government has opted for long termism with major investments in an ongoing revolution in education," he said.

A number of new secondary schools have been opened so far this year under a universal free secondary education programme. However, the opposition political parties contend that the programme is nothing more than mere politicking, in a year when voters are expected to elect a new government.

The opposition refers to the growing number of street protests by villagers mainly in rural areas mainly over employment opportunities.

But the government says it would also be using targeted fiscal strategies to help alleviate poverty, with Panday pointing to a squatter regularisation programme that will bring benefit to an estimated 100,000 persons, while also doubling old age pensions in three years.

The government administered Community Development Fund (CDF) since its inception in 1996, has put over 2 million dollars into projects aimed at alleviating poverty within the rural communities.

"The projects to be developed here will transform lives and create miracles for poor people. Our key strategy is to enable communities to execute policies to give themselves a hand up," says Victoria Mendez-Charles, a senior official in the Ministry of Finance.



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