An additional 50,000 people could be living below the poverty line next year: "I don't know if I can face more hardship"
Emily knows what living in poverty feels like. The Fijian woman in her 60s has to manage on FJ$60 a month provided by the Social Welfare Office. Since her son died two years ago, she has not been able to work. Facing increasing living costs and lack of opportunities, Emily struggles every day to make ends meet.
“The prices for food and bus fares have gone up. Now I can no longer buy biscuit or noodles. Before I used to buy three litres of kerosene, now I can only buy two litres. Today it is the 14th day of the month, and I have no more kerosene. Sometimes I have to collect firewood and cook on the fire outside the house. And some days I don’t eat,” Emily said.
The central lesson learned from every previous economic crisis is that the poor and vulnerable in developing countries – particularly women and children – are the ones that suffer the most. Millennium Development Goal 1 aims to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger in the world by 2015, but with a little more than 5 years to go there is a great concern that the global economic crisis will hamper the effort and affect the most vulnerable people in the developing countries, including the Pacific.
Regional Director and Head of Asia Development Bank (ADB) in Australia Mr Eugenue Zhukov said it is important for development partners to understand how the vulnerable have been affected by the global economic crisis, in order to provide the most appropriate assistance.
"The global economic crisis has seen the region lose ground in its efforts to reduce poverty. ADB estimates that an additional 50,000 people in the region will be living below the poverty line in 2010 because of the crisis," Mr Zhukov said.
Emily is not the only one facing hardship. Akuila’s life turned upside down when his left foot became infected and later amputated three years ago. The former brick layer has not been able to work since, and still he has not received any Social Welfare assistance. He is sitting on the floor in the dark while telling his story. There is no electricity in the house.
“I never go anywhere because I cannot walk and I have no money for transport. I used to work as a brick layer, but now I cannot work because of my leg. So where should I get the money from? Sometimes people bring me bread or rice, and my family helps me. Sometimes I can go five days a month without eating. This has a huge impact on our lives,” Akuila said.
Social worker Tom Victor has been working with vulnerable people for many years. He now fears the impacts of the global economic crisis on these exposed groups, including the urban poor.
“It is very painful to see what the poor people are facing now. They can’t pay school fees, they can’t prepare proper food and even children don’t eat before going to school. If they become sick, there is no money for medicine or even for transportation to the hospital. A number of people live in small, congested houses and sometimes their children drop out of school to work in sugar cane fields to support their families,” Mr Victor said.
Within the next two months, February 2010 - more than 200 representatives from governments, legislative branches, civil society, private partners and the UN will meet in Vanuatu to discuss how to lessen the global economic crisis’ impacts on the poor and vulnerable and to prepare for future financial downturns. It is possible that the full impact of the current crisis has not yet been felt in the Pacific. This offers an opportunity for Pacific countries to put together more thoughtful and effective policies, but it may also mean that the impacts could be more in 2010 than in 2009. UN and ADB experts believe that even if the global economy picks up in the second half of 2010, economic conditions in the Pacific will be tough and it may take until 2011 for island economies to recover.
Emily’s message to the Pacific leaders is to recognize what she and many others are going through:
“Look deeper into our problems and what we are facing right now; we have less money, sometimes I don’t eat and I can’t buy my food. Plenty of people are facing what I am facing now. There is no future for us. I don’t know if I can face more hardship. Before I used to buy 1 kg rice – now I can’t. No flour. No biscuit. No chicken. People on top don’t know what we are facing. We suffer now. We really suffer”.
By Saeba Bajoghli, UNDP Fiji Multi-Country Office
Please note that the woman in this article is anonymous and that ‘Emily’ is not her real name.
Human Interest Story on the Pacific Conference on the Human Face of the Global Economic Crisis