Botswana must step up war on poverty

Despite Botswana scoring socio-economic success over the years, the country has a long way to go in eradicating poverty.

Speaking at the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty (IDEP), acting United Nations Resident Coordinator Dr Jean Kalilani said yesterday that nearly a third of Batswana live below the national poverty threshold and deserve no excuses from leaders.

"They want action to help them out of poverty by 2016. That may be a tall order, but halving the poverty head count ratio to 15 percent is possible for a country with the resources and opportunities Botswana has".

She noted that it is paramount for governments to commit time and resources to educating people about what they are doing in their name - not propaganda - but as honest communication of results and consolidation of feedback.

She said Botswana may have measurable indicators of progress but there is need to contend with people's perception of their life.

She added that a successful strategy against poverty would require a deliberate and adequate investment in building poor people's capacity to fight poverty. "Working together, poor people, their governments, business, civil society and developed partners, can make real progress towards eradicating poverty.

"People are not poor because they do not earn enough money every day to meet basic needs. Poverty can also mean being uneducated, unskilled and therefore ill equipped to earn a living. It can mean ill-health, exclusion, homelessness, lack of access to productive resources, including land."

People are impoverished differently and experience poverty differently. Acting secretary for economic and financial policy, in the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, Kelapile Ndobano said that Botswana is focusing on promoting awareness and dialogue on poverty by calling for effective and coordinated multi-sector responses to poverty.

He said that government has created an enabling environment to pursue national commitment to reduce poverty and to create sustainable employment opportunities.

He said that government is committed to intensifying its efforts in implementing national initiatives, adding that sound macroeconomic atmosphere has continued to translate into a robust and sustained economic growth - contributing to on increase in average living standards.

Records indicate that the proportion of people living below the poverty datum line dropped from 59 percent in 1985/86 to 47 percent in 1993-4 and then to 30 percent in 2002-03. Botswana has also made important strides in attaining universal and equitable access to education and primary health care.

He noted that the HIV/AIDS plague has had a negative impact on anti-poverty initiatives by - among others - eroding human capabilities necessary to take individuals out of poverty, with for instance a decline in life expectancy and the return of TB as a major killer.

Unemployment remains high in Botswana, mainly due to the slow pace of economic diversification, as well as rapid growth of the labour force, adding: "Unemployment is an obvious cause of poverty because it leads to reduced purchasing power of households.

This is a challenge for diversification into labour-intensive economic activities that must continue to be the focus of economic policies even during the NDP 10 period".

He said drought is yet another challenge - a major cause of poverty in the country, especially that it has become a common feature in Botswana and also perceived as a major source of transitory food insecurity because it affects the performance of the agricultural sector and erodes rural incomes making them highly variable.

Poverty reduction and food security cannot be attained without a viable economy.

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