Egypt’s MDGs (Al-Ahram Weekly (Egypt))

The number of those living in extreme poverty has declined significantly over the last two decades, according to the recent UN Millennium Development Goals (MDG) report, an annual assessment of global and regional progress towards the eight MDGs set by world leaders to be achieved during the 2000-2015 period.

In 1990, nearly half the population of the developing world lived on less than $1.25 a day. That proportion had dropped to 14 per cent by 2015.

According to the report, the number of people living in extreme poverty has declined by more than half globally, falling from 1.9 billion in 1990 to 836 million in 2015. Most of the progress has occurred since 2000.

The number of people in the global middle class who are living on more than $4 a day has almost tripled between 1991 and 2015. This group now makes up half the workforce in the developing regions, up from just 18 per cent in 1991.

Moreover, the UN report explained that the proportion of malnourished people in the developing regions has fallen by almost half since 1990, from 23.3 per cent in 1990-1992 to 12.9 per cent in 2014-2016.

However, experts remain doubtful about these optimistic figures. Heba Al-Leithi, a professor of economics and statistics at Cairo University, said that “the goals set by the UN are so low it is easily to reach positive results. The MDG team has recognised this problem and is developing the criteria as well as the goals to give more accurate results over the next 15 years.”

Karima Koriyem, a professor of economics at Al-Azhar University, believes that the figures do not express the real situation worldwide since there are still enormous areas in Africa where people are suffering from extreme poverty and disease.

Koriyem added that the results of a study different from the terms of reference had been used. The poverty line was defined as $1.25 per day, for example, whereas in fact results would differ from country to country according to the exchange rate of the dollar, she said.

Al-Leithi explained that in Egypt the exchange rate was calculated at LE3, considerably less than the market rate. Both Al-Leithi and Koriyem said the global improvements did not apply to Egypt, since Egypt’s poverty rate had increased to reach 26.3 per cent in 2013, compared to 25.2 per cent in 2011, according to the state-run Central Agency for Mobilisation and Statistics (CAPMAS).

The domestic poverty line stands at an annual income of LE3,920 ($569) per person. There was an extreme poverty rate of 4.4 per cent in Egypt in 2013, standing at an annual income of LE3,570 ($518) per person.

According to CAPMAS, poverty remains predominant in rural areas compared to urban areas, and the highest rates are in Assiut and Qena, at 60 and 58 per cent, respectively.

The average expenditure of Egyptian households stands at some LE26,161 annually. Around five per cent of Egyptian families, or almost 19 million nationwide, spend less than LE10,000 annually, while the expenditure of six per cent of families is more than LE50,000 per year.

Al-Leithi said that the most recent figures for the poverty rate and Egyptian family expenditure had been calculated by CAPMAS in 2013, but due to the economic stagnation and hikes in prices over the past two years, the poverty rate is expected to have increased.

This will be reflected in the figures of the spending survey being conducted by CAPMAS to be launched by the end of the year.

The stability in income of the majority of Egyptian families, compared to the continuous increases in prices, will likely lead a large number of citizens to fall under the poverty line, according to Al-Leithi.

Besides the poverty rate, the UN report also includes reports on seven other MDG goals, including achieving universal primary education. The primary school net enrolment rate in the developing regions has reached 91 per cent in 2015, up from 83 per cent in 2000, it states.

“The number of out-of-school children of primary school age worldwide has fallen by almost half to an estimated 57 million in 2015 and down from 100 million in 2000,” the report says. However, Al-Leithi said the report was only interested in the numbers of children being enrolled in primary school and not in the quality of education they get.

The third MGG is to promote gender equality and empower women, and the report says that many more girls are in school worldwide compared to 15 years ago. The developing regions as a whole have achieved the target of eliminating gender disparity in primary and secondary education, it says.

For example, in Southern Asia only 74 girls were enrolled in primary school for every 100 boys in 1990. Today, 103 girls are enrolled for every 100 boys. Moreover, according to the report, women now make up 41 per cent of paid workers outside the agricultural sector, an increase from 35 per cent in 1990.

But gender disparity still exists in Egypt since women still have fewer opportunities in the labour market, particularly in the private sector, according to Al-Leithi. The unemployment rate among women is higher than among men because the owners of private companies prefer to hire men, she said.

Another MDG is the reduction of child mortality, and here the report says that the global under-five mortality rate has declined by more than half, dropping from 90 to 43 deaths per 1,000 live births between 1990 and 2015. Despite population growth in the developing regions, the number of deaths of children under five has declined from 12.7 million in 1990 to almost six million in 2015 globally, according to the report.

Maternal health has also improved. Since 1990, the maternal mortality ratio has declined by 45 per cent worldwide, and most of the reduction has occurred since 2000.

A further MDG is to ensure environmental sustainability. According to the report, 1.9 billion people have gained access to piped drinking water since 1990 and up to 4.2 billion in 2015. Ozone-depleting substances have been virtually eliminated since 1990, and the ozone layer is expected to recover by the middle of this century, the report says.

Developing a global partnership for development is another goal that has seen a lot of work achieved. The official development assistance provided by developed countries increased by 66 per cent in real terms between 2000 and 2014, reaching $135.2 billion, the report says.

In 2014, Denmark, Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom continued to exceed the United Nations official development assistance target of 0.7 per cent of gross national income, it says.

The eighth MDG is to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, and this has also witnessed clear improvements by 2015 compared to 2000.