Poverty in Central and Eastern Europe exposed


It's ten years now since Czechoslovakia rejoined the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, after 40 years of communism. The two institutions say their main goal is fighting poverty, and they've chosen their annual session in Prague to unveil their latest figures. They don't make pleasant reading: in 1998, 1 out of every 5 people in post-communist Europe lived under the poverty line--a decade ago the number was one in 50. Surprisingly, it's not elderly people who are most at risk, but children and families with young children. Vladimir Tax has the details:

Many of those living in poverty in the former Soviet bloc today were not poor ten years ago. Under the communist regime, there was virtually no unemployment and the state could afford generous social security, state-guaranteed health care and education. These conditions changed drastically with the collapse of communism. One of the principal authors of the study, Ana Ravenga, explained who was most at risk: While people living in rural areas were at the highest risk from poverty, she said, in numerical terms the majority of the poor were still living and working in urban areas.

As the World Bank study shows, the risk of poverty for children is very high in Central Europe, and the highest in the Czech Republic. Ms. Ravenga again: There are differences between poverty in this region and other countries of the world. The World Bank even uses a double standard for defining poverty in the region--2 dollars per capita per day, instead of the one dollar applied to the rest of the world.

There are also great differences among the post-communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. While absolute poverty is a big problem in the former Soviet Union and Balkan countries--60 percent of the poor in the region live in Russia--there are hardly any people under the poverty line in Central and Southern Europe. However, relative poverty and income inequality is a problem everywhere.

As the main steps to take in order to tackle poverty in this region, the World Bank suggests building effective and inclusive institutions, providing conditions for shared growth, protecting the poor and vulnerable and reducing inequality and enhancing opportunities for the poorest. People in Central and Eastern Europe were not used to poverty and they still find the psychological pain as difficult as the material hardship, and often feel that being poor is their fault.