Poverty reduction programs under fire

Published on Latin America Press.org, by Louisa Reynolds, 5/21/2009.

Colom administration diverts resources from the Health and Education Ministries to fund Social Cohesion Council …

… Funds diverted:

On April 28, the Social Cohesion Council, a government body integrated by ministries, secretariats and funds dealing with social development set up under the Álvaro Colom administration and managed by first lady Sandra de Colom, announced a Strategic Plan to Reduce Chronic Malnutrition which will distribute about US$12 a month to the beneficiaries of the conditioned cash transfer program Mi Familia Progresa, or “My Family Moves Forward” in four Mayan Chortí municipalities of Chiquimula where a high percentage of the population suffers from chronic malnutrition: Camotan, Jocotan, San Juan Ermita and Olopa.

The Mi Familia program gives families $18.50 a month as long as the children attend school, and an additional $18.50 for them to receive regular medical checkups. 

Although similar programs implemented in Brazil and Mexico have had positive results, Mi Familia Progresa has been hugely controversial due to the fact that it has been funded with much-needed resources diverted from the Ministries of Health and Education.

Mario de León, a physician at the Jutiapa National Hospital, is already feeling the impact of these budget cuts. One of his patients, 6-year-old Edwin Virula Mateo, diagnosed with thoracic cancer, had to wait two days for an ambulance to take him to Guatemala City for further exams. He had to wait for two other patients.

“Fuel is expensive and we can´t afford the journey for a single patient,” was the answer de León got when he contacted the authorities and inquired about the reason for the delay.

Around $13.6 million is due to be transferred from the National Hospital Network and $34 million from municipal health centers is due to be transferred to Mi Familia Progresa …

… Government policies lacking:

A follow-up report on the recommendations made by Jean Ziegler, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, published in March this year by the International Center for Human Rights Investigations, is also highly critical of the Colom administration’s strategy to improve food security in rural areas.

According to the report, the Social Cohesion Council, which lacks the permanent character of a ministry or secretariat and is likely to disappear unless Colom´s UNE party is re-elected in 2012, duplicates the mandate of the National System for Food Security and Nutrition, or Sinasan, regarded by food security experts as the previous Óscar Berger (2004-2008) administration´s sole achievement in terms of fighting hunger.

Sinasan includes government and civil society representatives and is in charge of coordinating the actions of government bureaus dealing with food security and nutrition. Unlike the Social Cohesion Congress, the creation of Sinasan, under the Berger administration, was approved by Congress.

“This government has continued to implement government rather than state policies with a long-term vision. The creation of temporary organizations operating under the Social Cohesion Council, with attributions in terms of food security and nutrition only weakens the already fragile National System for Food Security and Nutrition,” concludes the report.

Palacios sums up the concerns voiced by a number of local organizations: “There´s nothing wrong with focusing on areas suffering from chronic malnutrition, but in departments such as Chiquimula, malnutrition is the symptom of much more complex factors that need to be treated from the root.”

According to Palacios, in order to fight hunger in the medium and long-term in villages such as El Matasano, it would be necessary to invest resources and technology in agricultural production for the local market, in order to make communities self-sustainable. (full text Latinamerica Press).

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