Is anyone listening?

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Summary of the 2nd Uganda Chronic Poverty Report 2010 by Rosemary Kaduru (DRT)

There is no doubt that sustained growth has led to significant reduction in income poverty in Uganda. Poverty reduced from 56 percent in 1992/93 to 34 percent in 1999/00 before rising to 37.8 percent in 2002/03 and thereafter declined to 31.1 percent in 2005/06. The Chronic Poverty Report 2010 focuses on the situation of poverty in Uganda with specific reference to the situation in Northern Uganda where the majority of chronically poor people are located. The incidence of income poverty has a geographical dimension.

The disproportionate contribution of rural areas to national poverty has remained above 90 percent and the contribution of Northern Uganda has been increasing over time from 26.1 in 1992/93, 29.6 percent in 2002/03 to 38.5 percent in 2005/06 (Ssewanyana and Okidi, 2007). The Northern region remains poor and has made less progress in poverty reduction.

The Chronic Poverty Report 2010, further examines the wider picture and what has been learnt over the past five years since the first chronic poverty report for Uganda was produced in 2005. The report raises the following important questions; Is chronic poverty finally being taken seriously? What has been achieved so far? Who is being reached and who is being left out? What needs to be done?

The report focuses on recent household data from a huge panel survey across the north and east of Uganda to examine the current state of chronic poverty in Uganda. This data gives a clear insight into how much poverty is due to people being chronically poor and how many people are moving in and out of poverty. The report tries to link specific households with other socio-economic information to give a better understanding about why some households stay poor when other don’t.

Perhaps the most important finding will dispel the common mis-perception that the chronically poor are somehow the ‘remnants’ of society – the old, infirm and sick, the economically inactive who are not capable of being independent. The report finds that the chronically poor are just as economically active as others and working just as hard – they are just poorer. The importance of this finding is that it throws into question so much of the “theory” on which poverty eradication is predicated. Current interventions are often targeted on what are called “the active poor” but exclude the chronically poor in the belief that this group is largely ‘incurable’, incapable of being independent.

The report looks at current national policy on poverty eradication and links it to what we know about the chronically poor. It shows that many interventions are developed without thinking about the chronically poor and their failure is already built into their inherent design, which makes it almost inevitable that the chronically poor will not benefit. The report further examines how implementation of policy ignores the needs and aspirations of the chronically poor, with predictable consequences. Basic Services which are a right to all citizens and which are heavily subsidised by the state in order to target poor people end up only benefiting the non poor.

In three case studies, specific factors relating to chronic poverty are unpacked – alcohol, remoteness and disability. The report shows how causes of poverty and policy interventions are simply ignoring the realities of poverty. Why then does the fight to eradicate poverty not start with simple measures to tackle its causes? Many of the forces at play, from population growth to climate change, are likely to exacerbate chronic poverty, unless appropriate measures are taken now.

The report continues to state that the definition of poverty and vulnerability in Uganda follows the traditional approach of relating economic growth to reduction in income poverty, in essence overlooking the political dimension of poverty – that of equal opportunity. Viewing poverty from a different perspective – of equal opportunity – would thus make it more of a human rights and democratic issue than a mere increase in income. In this debate the intrinsic link between politics, power and poverty mean that the problem of poverty can only be effectively tackled if we address the role of politics and power, in so doing addressing issues of equity.
An examination is also made of the predominant issues in pro- and anti-social protection debates and actions in the country. It concludes with a review of the key challenges and opportunities for moving the social protection agenda forward. In this discussion a familiar concept of Social Protection has been adopted – the notion that this encapsulates “all public and private initiatives which provide income or consumption transfers to the poor, protect the vulnerable against livelihood risks, and enhance the social status and rights of the marginalized; with the overall objective of reducing the economic and social vulnerability of poor, vulnerable and marginalized groups” . This understanding is further underpinned by a position adopted by the authors that Social Protection is a “right” and not simply a “welfarist” approach to addressing risk and vulnerability.

The report does not attempt to say everything about chronic poverty, but its various chapters add insight from different perspectives. Collectively they paint a stark and worrying picture. Ironically, the picture is so worrying – not because there is evidence that chronic poverty is so hard to tackle, but on the contrary, because there is nothing in the evidence to show that it cannot be addressed. If that conclusion is correct, then the problem lies elsewhere.

Finally the report moves beyond the first Chronic Poverty report, to give new policy recommendations based upon the past five years research. The report explain why new policy recommendations are not needed – and to hope that someone is listening. This challenge notwithstanding, Uganda’s policy and institutional landscape for social protection is beginning to take shape. Innovative ideas of how to use this to address risk and vulnerability among different categories of the poor are primed with a generally positive global disposition to the approach.

Summarised
Rosemary Awino Kaduru
Executive Director
Development Research and Training (DRT)

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