Government Program Vows to Eradicate ‘Extreme Poverty’

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The Armenian government will soon approve an eight-year socioeconomic program that promises to eradicate "extreme poverty" and substantially reduce the number of other households living below the poverty line–officials said on Thursday.

The ambitious plan–which has been in the works for nearly a year–commits the government to spending an estimated $1.2 billion on various "poverty reduction" programs. A large part of the money will be provided by the World Bank and other Western donors–the main initiators of such a plan.

The document will be discussed and officially adopted by ministers next month–according to one of its authors–Hovannes Azizian of the Armenian Ministry of Finance and Economy. "As a result of the implementation of this program–extreme poverty will disappear by the year 2006," Azizian told reporters. "Of course–poverty will continue to exist–but the income threshold for measuring it will be much higher."

According to government estimates–just over 50 percent of Armenia’s live below the official poverty line. Approximately half of them are considered to be "extremely poor," spending less than 12,000 drams ($22) a month. Officials claim that the poverty rate has fallen in recent years as a result of robust economic growth.

Continued growth of the Gross Domestic Product will be integral to the success of the government’s poverty reduction strategy. The authorities hope that it will translate into more tax revenues that will allow them to increase Armenia’s modest state budget in the coming years. The budget for this year is worth less than $500 million and therefore precludes any significant public spending on education–health care and social security.

Few other details of the poverty reduction program are known at the moment.

Hran’sh Kharatian–chairwoman of the Hazarashen non-governmental organization which took part in the elaboration of the plan–expressed skepticism at its likely effects on the situation on the ground. She said the state will not have sufficient to launch large-scale welfare programs in the foreseeable future.

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