July 24, 2009
The poverty assessment report


The contents of the St Vincent and the Grenadines Poverty Assessment Report, the subject of a National Consultation last week, make very interesting reading. The words ‘poverty’ and ‘poor’ are much bandied about in the political arena in St Vincent and the Grenadines, with their interpretation and implications depending on the perceived political fortunes of those raising the issues.{{more}} Yet, as the study, one of several conducted through the Caribbean countries, demonstrates, facts are facts and do give an indication of the true state of affairs in any country.

As it stands, the study of ‘Living Conditions in St Vincent and the Grenadines 2007/08’ reveals that the country, and the Government, can take some pride in progress made to combat poverty, reverse its spread, reduce its prevalence, and hopefully be on the road to poverty eradication. The statistics speak for themselves –

  •  Overall, the incidence of poverty has declined from 37.5 in 1995/96 to 30 per cent in 2007/08.
  •  Even more impressive is the drastic reduction in the indigence level, from 25.7 per cent in 1995/96 to a mere 2.9 per cent in 2007/08.
  •  Inequality in the society, according to the yardstick of measurement, fell by nearly 30 per cent in the same period.
  •  There were improvements in the living conditions, based on the reduction in the size of households, number of children, persons occupying a bedroom, prevalence of pit latrines and access to electricity.

Undisputedly, these indicate that basic living standards have indeed risen over the 12-year period. That is good, and a plus for the government, but we cannot rest on these laurels. Much more needs to be done. On the downside of the fact sheet, we cannot be happy that in terms of the United Nations Human Development Index, our country was last in CARICOM, except for Haiti. We are way off track in achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

Similarly, we cannot be satisfied or complacent about the levels of unemployment, put at almost 19 per cent, or that 12 per cent of our people lack electricity, while more than 30 per cent still have pit latrines, or worse. We cannot be satisfied with the grave socio-economic situation where mothers admit to having sex to help provide for their families, or that sexual preying on young girls is very much in fashion. A sobering fact that one must bear in mind is how vulnerable we are in this open, underdeveloped economy, with the vulnerability index almost 50 per cent.

So, even as we measure progress, for which the government must be highly complimented, we are reminded that there is much work to do. While we chatter on radio, on phone and person-to-person, we need to keep the focus on not only rolling back poverty, but, given our vulnerability, on being able to sustain progress. A number of recommendations have been set out in the Report in this regard. However, the success of these depends on the extent we can place national interests above selfish ones, and conversely, how we can ensure democratic, participatory governance, justice for all, and prioritize initiatives to lift those in deepest trouble economically out of it, while providing opportunities for the enterprising.