During the seventh National Youth Conference held last week in the New Administrative Capital, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi called on state bodies and civil society to cooperate to implement the Decent Life Initiative to develop Egypt’s neediest villages and integrate the project with the national strategy to eradicate poverty.
“This means not leaving any house or road untouched by development,” he said, as part of a strategy targeting 32 million people in some of Egypt’s poorest villages.
According to Minister of Social Solidarity Ghada Wali, the ministry has started with villages where the percentage of the population living in poverty exceeds 75 per cent.
The first phase, already underway, will cost LE2 billion and will include 377 villages in 11 governorates, mostly in Upper Egypt, she said.
Around three million people will benefit from the initiative’s first phase, which will provide these villages with potable water, rebuild roofless houses, and distribute blankets and furniture. It will also offer training to family members on how to start micro-sized projects.
Upper Egypt includes some of Egypt’s poorest governorates, according to the income, consumption and spending survey issued last week by CAPMAS, the government statistics agency. The Assiut governorate will receive the lion’s share of the funds allocated for the first phase followed by Sohag.
The second phase will include villages in the Mersa Matrouh, Beheira, Qalioubiya, Port Said, Kafr Al-Sheikh, Cairo and Menoufiya governorates, where the percentage living in poverty ranges from 50 to 75 per cent. The third phase will involve villages in the Ismailia, Sharqiya, Daqahliya, Alexandria, Gharbiya, Damietta, Suez and Red Sea governorates, where the percentage of poverty is less than 50 per cent.
During the Youth Conference, Al-Sisi issued directives for the villages’ development to be completed this year, without waiting for the 2020/2021 financial allocations. He said the government alone would not be able to develop the neediest villages since they needed 250,000 school classes at a total cost of LE125 billion annually, for example.
On his Facebook page, Al-Sisi said the initiative was under his direct auspices and urged the country’s businessmen to participate to help make it a success. It should be implemented according to the model presented during the Youth Conference, which is based on achieving integration between the government and civil society, the president said.
The implementation has started by forming youth groups in each governorate to identify the poorest villages and determine which services will be given priority. These groups will work under the supervision of the prime minister and the concerned ministries.
Medical teams will visit the villages and offer medical assistance to those who need it. People with physical disabilities will be provided with prosthetic devices, wheelchairs, and crutches.
The initiative also includes providing sanitation services, since 65 per cent of the countryside’s population are deprived of them at present. In 2014, only 10 per cent of the rural population benefited from a sewage system, though this had increased to 35 per cent in 2018.
“This is the first step in the right approach to handling the poverty problem which has escalated during the past few years,” said Karima Korayem, a professor of economics at Al-Azhar University in Cairo.
However, Korayem believes that the government should give priority to developing the people themselves rather than just the villages’ infrastructure. “Millions of people cannot earn their own livings and cannot feed themselves or their children, so it would be better to provide them with productive job opportunities,” she explained.
In Upper Egypt, people could work in small enterprises to help themselves achieve an acceptable standard of living, Korayem said. “If the initiative succeeds in providing jobs for the most impoverished, they will be able to live with dignity and will be changed to become productive people,” she added.
“Before thinking of providing electricity, roads and schools, low-income segments in society need to be able to earn the money to buy food first,” Korayem said, adding that when poorer people have jobs and can earn their living they will have the money to rebuild their houses and pay for electricity and roads themselves.
Mohamed Abdel-Hamid, a teacher in the Kafr Al-Sheikh governorate, said that the quality of the services provided to poor villages was what matters, as while the villages in his governorate were equipped with drinking water this was not always clean. While there was a public school in each village, the number of students in each class could reach 60 or 70, resulting in low-quality education, he said.
The Ministry of Planning and Administrative Reform released a statement last week on key features of the Decent Life Initiative. Hala Al-Said, the minister of planning, said that the initiative was in line with Egypt’s sustainable development plans under the 2030 Vision.
She pointed out that the successful eradication of poverty depended on growth and inflation rates. High growth rates meant more job opportunities and less poverty, she said. Egypt’s growth rate came in at 5.6 per cent in 2018/2019, and it is targeted to reach six per cent in 2019/2020 and 6.5 per cent in 2020/2021.
The inflation rate decreased from a peak of 33 per cent in July 2017 to 8.9 per cent in June 2019. However, Al-Said said that the increase in the population was a threat to the problem of poverty, since it was still increasing annually by 2.5 million.
Wali has met with a number of NGOs to coordinate efforts on implementing the initiative. Wali said that the ministry was working on establishing a database on the neediest families, in coordination with its partners.
According to CAPMAS figures, 32.5 per cent of Egyptians now live below the poverty line, compared to 27.8 per cent in 2015. CAPMAS has set the national poverty line at LE735.7 per month and LE8,827 per year, compared to LE482 per month and LE5,787.9 per year in the 2015 survey.
In an attempt to reduce these levels, the government launched its Takaful and Karama programmes in 2015 to support impoverished families with school-aged children, the elderly, and people with special needs, mainly in Upper Egypt.
According to the Ministry of Social Solidarity, 2.2 million households currently benefit from the programmes, with the amount of cash provided to households depending on the number of children and their school level.
Takaful is an income-support programme for families with children under 18 years of age. It supports child health and nutrition, school enrolment, 80 per cent school attendance for children aged six to 18, and maternal care for pregnant and lactating women.
Karama is a programme for those who cannot work, especially elderly people over 65 years of age and persons with disabilities, aiming to help them to live a decent life. According to Wali, around 1,000 new families were added to the Takaful and Karama programmes at the beginning of the fiscal year in July 2019.
Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli has said that the government will continue to support the social programmes and subsidy system while establishing an accurate database to determine eligible beneficiaries.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 8 August, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: In pursuit of a decent life