June 16, 2010

South of Kurdistan: how we can eradicate poverty? - By Mufid Abdulla

The latest report on poverty in Kurdistan and Iraq makes for interesting reading. According to this report, 16% of the population of the whole of Iraq is living below the poverty line and 13% of the population of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). In some places, such as oil rich Kirkuk, around 55% of adults have  registered to get welfare benefits from the government. We need to take this situation seriously. What is the KRG doing to resolve this epidemic?

If asked to define ‘poverty’, the vast majority of people would refer to the experience of falling below the poverty line or below a certain absolute standard of living. The World Bank, for example, uses reference points set at $1.25 and $2 per day (2005 Purchasing Power Parity terms). Using improved price data from the most recent (2005) round of the International Comparison Program, new poverty estimates released in August 2008 showed that about 1.4 billion people (one in four) in the developing world were living on less than $1.25 a day in 2005, down from 1.9 billion (one in two) in 1981. The new international poverty line of $1.25 a day at 2005 prices is the mean of the national poverty lines for the 10-20 poorest countries of the world.

According to the World Bank: “Poverty is hunger. Poverty is lack of shelter. Poverty is being sick and not being able to see a doctor .Poverty is not having access to school and not knowing how to read. Poverty is not having a job and also a fear for the future”.

Poverty can have a different meaning in Kurdistan compared to other places such as the UK, Poland and China. Poverty in China means you have to sleep rough without food but in UK you can be classed as poor although you are able to watch plasma TV and meet your basic food requirements.

Poverty in Kurdistan means no clean water, no electricity, no job, no future, no health cover, no house and having to go to the countryside to find shelter. In the south of Kurdistan the main cause of poverty is corruption and not a lack of resources. Corruption means the misuse of power and certain people considering themselves to be above the law.

We have more than 25 oil companies working in Arbil, the capital of the KRG, where they are exploring and investing in new oil wells. We have 125 members of the Kurdistan Parliament  who get annual salaries of around $70,000 plus party political allowances of $30,000. to each KDP and PUK . The KRG pays strikingly high salaries to its civil servants, many of whom are selected because of their loyalty to one or other of the two ruling parties. But this is the people’s money! Each new cabinet makes promises to address these issues but nothing gets done. And, as government ministers admitted in the local elections, the Kurdistan budget is in deficit’ Infant schools are in a disastrous state. They so overcrowded, due to the lack of new building, that children can only get 3.5 hours of education per day. Yet education should be the main responsibility of the modern state.

With reference to corruption, I must praise the stand of the 25 opposition members of parliament, belonging to the Gorran movement, who recently refused to accept payments of $40,000  to buy themselves new cars at the expense of the poor people of Kurdistan. They refused on the basis that:  (a) there are people in Kurdistan who cannot afford to eat and so why should MPs, as representatives of the people, have such expensive vehicles; and  (b) they informed local reporters that their salaries were high enough for them to be able to afford to buy their own new vehicles. As the result $1 million of public money will be saved. Will this money be put into the correct channels of expenditure? I doubt it. We have 125 MPs but in fact we need only half of that number. The state sponsors all the political parties and events but this should not be its duty. Instead the state should focus on its responsibility for providing education and a welfare system.

Kurdistan could become the most glittering success story in the history of newly established states. Latest economic research shows that the path to economic growth can be achieved by all nations by using different economic tools and theories. Kurdistan will become a successful country when it provides the best possible education system for the new generation. The main root cause of poverty is the lack of education provision.


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