I DO not mind changing my mind for a good reason, especially if it is for the good of the nation. I am talking about changing my mind about how I define poverty alleviation in relation to poverty reduction. If you can read back to my old columns, you will see that I have practically dismissed poverty alleviation as unimportant, compared to poverty reduction which I thought was more important than everything else. As I originally defined it, poverty alleviation is the means to make the pains of poverty more bearable, while poverty reduction on the other hand is the means to make poverty less prevalent, in other words to reduce the number of those who fall under the poverty line, numerically that is.
According to the United Nations, one of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is to reduce extreme poverty to zero by the year 2030. Originally, one of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) was to reduce extreme poverty in 2015 to 50% of the benchmark year 1991. In real terms, that means lowering the poverty rate from 33.1% to 16.6% by 2015. As it turned out, that goal was not met as the figures showed that in 2015, the poverty rate was about 21.6 %. In my personal opinion however, I believe that the real poverty rate is closer to 60%, if only the methods of measuring poverty in this country would be more transparent and accurate. Based on what we presently know however, it appears that it would be difficult for the Philippines to reach the zero poverty goals by 2030.
Perhaps I changed my mind when I started thinking about the high rate of homelessness in this country, about the fact that many people do not have homes to stay in and if they do have some dwellings where they could sleep, these could just be makeshift shelters that are hardly fit for human habitation. Based on my old definition, housing programs would fall under the category of poverty alleviation, because it would only make the pain of poverty more bearable for the people, but it will not make them graduate out of the poverty line. As my mind changed, I realized that the two could actually work together, meaning to say that poverty alleviation and poverty reduction could actually be implemented parallel to each other.
It has also occurred to me that if more people would be able to afford the cost of housing, they might actually graduate out of the poverty line because under their new living conditions, they would be able to afford the imaginary “basket of goods”, the conventional method of measuring the poverty rate. I would imagine that the cost of housing would be a major part of that imaginary basket. For that matter, many could graduate out of the poverty line if they live in better homes, and if the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) is used. Among other methods, the MPI measures poverty in terms of having a floor that is other than dirt, dung or sand; having assets aside from one appliance; having cooking fuel aside from dung, wood or charcoal; having electricity from sources such as fossil fuels, solar, wind and hydro; having toilets with water to wash and having safe water to drink. I have invented Facets as a mnemonic device to easily remember this.
You might notice that everything included in Facets are related to housing, including assets, cooking fuel, and safe water. Obviously, air conditioners and built-in kitchens with stoves could be considered as part of assets. There seems to be a new development now as far as cooking fuel is concerned. In some places, it is now cheaper to use electric stoves instead of gas, particularly in the case of induction stoves. But even in the case of gas, there are new technologies now that would allow the conversion of human waste into biogas, with the addition of some enzymes. Aside from that, it is a known fact that methane gas could be produced from organic post consumer waste.
As it is already widely known, the political left has debunked the idea that the delivery of public services is part of poverty alleviation, arguing that such services are really part of the normal functions of government. As I see it, that is really an issue of quality delivery, because if the quality is really high, then the people would avail of these, instead of spending money on paid services. If that is the case, more people need not spend money to avail of some of the goods in the imaginary basket, thus increasing their chances of being graduated from the poverty line. By the way, it has been many years since the contents of the imaginary basket has been reviewed. For example, it does not yet contain cell phone load.