Posted tagged ‘social work’

POVERTY: PH LINGERING ACHILLES HEEL

April 11, 2011

POVERTY: PH LINGERING ACHILLES HEEL

Erle Frayne D. Argonza

Let me follow through on the hunger report by reflecting on poverty once more. Ph is an economic boom episode and its chief exec Noynoy Aquino has been in power for almost a year since installation. Yet hunger grows amidst relative abundance!

Government statistics has to be massaged anew so as to make it appear that poverty has been going down. The ‘doctorates of statistical massage’ should better do their jobs well, as the latest survey of the Social Weather Stations clearly show a hunger rate of 20%. It’s so self-evident that poverty breeds hunger, so the growing hunger means poverty is growing too, isn’t it? Commonsensical a stuff!

Below is an article on poverty that I wrote while the election period was still going on last year. Since last year, poverty hasn’t shrunk!

[Philippines, 08 April 2011]
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POVERTY: PHILIPPINES‘ ACHILLES HEEL

Erle Frayne D. Argonza

Poverty is the Achilles’ heel of the Philippine state, and will be so for at least two (2) more decades. Amid the appreciable growth the economy has sustained so far, with the national economy doubling in just eight (8) years during the incumbency of president Gloria Arroyo, poverty remains very high.

If we go by the yardsticks of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the World Bank, the Philippines has been performing fairly well on wealth production as a whole, so much that the country graduated to a middle income status by the turn of the century. No more a poor economy by world standards, yet the country’s poverty increased from 28% in 2001 (when Arroyo took over the presidency) to 33% today (per latest government statistics).

Paradoxical, come to think of it, that while the economy has been growing and had moved to middle income status, more people have become poorer. Tough, very tough, is the task of mining for the ‘gini in the bottle’ that would reduce poverty considerably to a negligible 5% or less, a level that is easily manageable and where state and communities can simply decide to fully subsidize the remaining poor.

Whether the Philippines can meet the UN’s Millenium Development Goal of cutting poverty by half in 2015 seems much clearer now to social forecasters: the dream is elusive and unattainable. Not even if the economy will double again from mid-2009 to 2015 which is a most likely development.

The Philippines’ poorest happens to be the rural populations, notably the fisherfolk sector where malnutrition runs the highest rate (2/3 of children/families). Rural population is now down to 34% or 1/3 of the population, while the urban peoples comprise 66% or 2/3. Urban to rural poverty ratio is 1:2.5, meaning that for every 1 poor person in the cities & towns, there’s an equivalent of 2.5 persons in the countrysides.

The message is clear to the next government (formed by the new president after the May polls this year) that the attack zone on poverty should be the rural population. Both antipoverty and anti-hunger programs should be initiated at very high levels in the countryside to be able to bring down total poverty by a large degree.

Failure to solve rural poverty in the long run redounds to perpetuating insurgency. Even if the present insurgent groups would concur peace pacts with the state, new insurgent groups will emerge again in the foreseeable future should the rural folks remain paupers.

Urbanization is now moving up, and with its growing eminence has come the rise of new cities. Citification has seen the incomes of communities treble by leaps and bounds, thus permitting the same communities to spend on infrastructures and social development.

Left to themselves, without massive migrations from rural folks, the cities can accumulate enormous income surpluses to solve unemployment, poverty, and malnutrition (both hunger and obesity). Philanthropic groups consequently rise from civil society and market players, and boost surplus production for solving poverty.

However, such is not the case even as the migration of the poor from the countryside to the cities continues in steady waves. So this brings us all back to the challenge of solving poverty right at the backyards where the poorest are most concentrated. This means that the food producers shouldn’t be left out in the development game, even as rural development should be brought to its next level.

Goal-wise, the realistic target is to reduce poverty from 33% in 2009 to 25% by 2015, or an average of 1.33% reduction per annum. Means-wise, an appreciable mix of good governance, right socio-economic policies, and strengthening of institutions would do a long way to bring down poverty altogether in the short run.

Urban population will grow to 70% around 2015, while rural population will go down further to 30%. With lower rural populations to manage by then, there is no more reason for government not to be able to do something to solve poverty. And we say government, because the increase in poverty largely came from governance-related factors such as poor absorptive capacity (to handle large budgets), inefficiency, graft, poor inter-governmental coordination, and low political will to pursue audacious solutions to daunting problems.

In 1989, this analyst wrote an article “Prospects of Poverty Alleviation in the 1990s,” a piece that I delivered as a symposium lecture at the University of the East (Prof. Randy David was also a speaker). At that time, poverty was a high of 49%, while urban to rural poverty was 1:2.1.

Since 1989, we have seen poverty reduced from 49% to its present level of 33% (a 5% increase since 2001 though), although rural poverty moved up paradoxically during the same period. Poverty reduction is not really impossible, as evidenced by the huge reduction across a 20-year period. Bringing it down further to 25% by 2015 is a doable target.

So let us see how the nation will fair under the next government of the republic (after May polls), when we see a new set of political leaders and cabinet members installed to power. As I’ve mentioned in earlier articles, my standpoint is that a nationalist coalition, such as what the present candidate Sen. Manny Villar, is most equipped with policy paradigm and tools to deal with the Achilles heel of pauperism, aside from the competence and visionary acumen of the noblesse senator.

By nationalist, I mean that of moving towards a regulated market and fair trade, with high propensity for ‘physical economy’ policies. We can no more return to the days of liberalization policies that saw the economy crash down in ’83-’85, stagnate for a time and grow again before hitting the next recession in ’97, and finally move up to middle income status only after a turtle pace struggle taking three (3) decades.

Liberalism and its propensity to be pro-Big Business and Big Landlord is a big no in our fight against poverty, whether in the Philippines and other nations of the globe. In my country, nationalism is the antidote paradigm and social technology watershed to reverse decades of liberal policies and solution to poverty. I’ve been echoing this theme since my teenage years yet, and remains steadily anchored on it.

[Philippines, 20 March 2010]
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US GENERAL: AFGHANISTAN’S A FAILURE, STRESSES DEVELOPMENT

August 22, 2008

Erle Frayne Argonza

Good day!

A retired US general recently spoke about the overall conduct of war in Afghanistan. To the surprise and chagrin of defense experts and officials, the general most candidly declared that Afghanistan was a disaster.

The retired general spoke more like a development expert than a uniformed defense official. Accordingly, there is no military solution to Afghanistan’s problems. The ideas proposed by the same (ret) uniformed official combine relief and rehab, infrastructures, and capacity-building efforts, or those solutions that have to do more with a total development package. This is a clear departure from the demented thinking in Pentagon and DC that tend to exacerbate the destructive facets of US engagements in Afghanistan.

Below is the news item about the (ret) official’s pronouncements.

[18 August 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila. Thanks to Executive Intelligence Review database news.]

McCaffrey: Afghanistan Disaster, Unless We Send in the Engineers

Aug. 7, 2008 (EIRNS)—Retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey, who often functions as an informal advisor to senior Army leadership on the current wars, reported on the disaster in Afghanistan following his July 21-26 trip to that country and to NATO headquarters in Belgium. In a memo dated July 30, addressed to the Social Sciences department at West Point, McCaffrey writes: “Afghanistan is in misery.” Sixty-eight percent of the population has never known peace, life expectancy is only 44, and Afghanistan has the highest maternal death rate in the world, he reports. The security situation, the economy (including agriculture, which is “broken”), governance, and the opium problems, are “all likely to get worse in the coming 24 months.”

There is no military solution, McCaffrey writes: “The atmosphere of terror cannot be countered mainly by military means. We cannot win through a war of attrition…. Afghanistan will not be solved by the addition of two or three more US combat brigades from our rapidly unraveling Army.”

Instead, McCaffrey argues that, in addition to building up the Afghan security forces, economic measures are also required. He calls for the deployment of a “five battalion Army engineer brigade… to lead a five year road building effort employing Afghan contractors and training and mentoring Afghan engineers…. The war will be won when we fix the Afghan agricultural system which employs 82% of the population…. The war will be won when the international community demands the eradication of the opium and cannibis crops and robustly supports the development of alternative economic activity.” McCaffrey pointed to the tremendous growth in the poppy crop since the US invasion in 2001 and warned that “Unless we deal head-on with this enormous cancer, we should have little expectation that our efforts in Afghanistan will not eventually come to ruin.” On Pakistan, McCaffrey warns against a US military intervention in that country from across the border in Afghanistan, which he says “would be a political disaster. We will imperil the Pakistani government’s ability to support our campaign. They may well stop our air and ground logistics access across Pakistan and place our entire NATO presence in severe jeopardy.” In dealing with Pakistan, “We must do no harm…”