Though Addis Abeba is the capital of the country and the seat of major commercial operations, 30pc of the population is under the poverty line, slightly higher than the national average. To combat this, the government has joined with the World Bank to launch a programme that aims to alleviate poverty by engaging the poor in productive income generating activities, writes BERHANE HAILEMARIAM, FORTUNE STAFFWRITER.
Life has never been easy for Wude Semaw. Now in her sixties, she lives with her husband, a daughter, a granddaughter and four other relatives in a hand-to-mouth existence.
Apart from the intermittent earnings her husband makes working as a janitor, the family has no other income. They live in a government-owned rental house in Wereda06, Laphto District, paying nominal rent. The area is also known by its colloquial name of Gofa Gabriel, due to its proximity to the church of that name in Nifas Silk.
Wude tried to hire herself to bake injera, the Ethiopian staple bread made from teff, for a monthly salary of 200-300 Br. This income could hardly register to lift the family out of poverty.
Wude and her family are apart of the 30pc of urban Addis Abebans who live below the poverty line, which is slightly higher than the 29pc national level figure. Given the large size of the capital, Addis Abeba records relatively high poverty rates.
But the family saw a ray of hope about a year ago when Wude was selected to be included as a beneficiary in a second phase of a safety net program. She became one of 2,209 beneficiaries selected from her wereda. The programme was launched with the aim of lifting people out of poverty by engaging them in productive activities that generate income.
The Ethiopian government, in collaboration with the World Bank, launched a 450-million-dollar, annual program about a year and a half ago with the aim of tackling the growing number of poor in urban areas. The programme is part of the government’s urban food security and job creation strategy, which targets over 4.7 million of the urban poor living in 972 cities and towns across the country.
“A committee, composed of selected beneficiaries, cross-checked my economic situation before they included me in the list,” Wude said. “My neighbours also gave testimonies about my family situation.”
The weredajob creation bureau organizes the committees and conducts assessments before deciding who will receive the benefits. The selection committee visited homes of applicants, witnessed their living conditions and heard testimonials from witnesses as part of the screening process.
Wude succeeded in being one of 1,203 female beneficiaries from her neighborhood. As part of the program, she was assigned waste cleaning tasks along with five other beneficiaries.
She goes out on her cleaning job five days a week and for four hours a day. For this work, which starts 6:00am each day, Wude and her co-workers earn 1,200 Br as regular monthly salary.
Twenty percent of her income goes to a savings account opened in her name as part of the safety net program created in collaboration with saving and credit associations.
The program is administrated, facilitated and implemented through the Federal Urban Job Creation & Food Security Agency. At full capacity, the project aims to benefit close to 604,000 people, with 200,000 people selected from the capital’s 55 weredas. Sixteen percent are beneficiaries of direct support, while the remaining benefit by earning regular income working in their neighbourhoods.
The direct beneficiaries of the program are the elderly and the disabled living in households with under-age members, street children, the homeless and beggars.
This project is an extension of a phased-out program from two years ago. During the first phase, 123,918 residents of the capital living under the poverty line received benefits.
Apart from the capital, Adama, Assayita, Asosa, Dessie, Dire Dawa, Gambella, Hawassa, Harari, Jijiga and Mekele are recipients in the second phase of the project.
“As the poverty condition in the city has not improved, Addis was allowed to continue as a beneficiary in the second phase too,” said Solomon Alemayehu, deputy director at the agency in charge of the food security program.
Thus, Wude and her colleagues were included in this part of the project, while others who could not actively engage in productive activities due to health or old-age received direct support.
Asegedech Wondimu, a 70-year-old woman, paralysed by a traffic accident, is one beneficiary who receives direct support. In her wereda a total of 435 people receive direct support of 175 Br a month.
“I had been facing challenges in covering my social expenses, such as Iquband Edir,” she said, “now I get relief.”
Beyond these monthly stipends, Asegedech and others in her situation receive additional benefits including free medical care, access to education for their children and government-owned homes depending on the severity of their living condition.
“We are working with the Ministry of Labour & Social Affairs (MoLSA) to provide them with the free transportation system,” said Solomon.
Those who receive these benefits are categorized under four work schemes: solid waste management, green development, urban agriculture and sewer cleaning.
They will save one-fifth of their incomes for three years, until they are transferred to the next stage of the program.
“The next stage is transferring them to the small and medium enterprise [stage],” said Assefa Ferede, director of communications affairs at the Agency.
On this second stage, they will be provided with 10,000 Br to start their own business. They will also receive training and choose engagement areas including manufacturing, service, construction, infrastructure and trade, which could potentially result in securing permanent jobs and incomes for the participants.
It has been about a year since Wude began working, cleaning her neighbourhood and generating income. After two years, she will be required to create her own job and leave the programme so that another beneficiary will take her place.
“Once transferred to the next level, I am planning to start a business baking and supplying injerain a larger scale with the assistance of my daughter,” she told Fortune.
Messay Mulugeta (Prof.), a lecturer and researcher for more than a decade and a half in Addis Abeba University College of Developmental Studies, appreciates the move taken by the World Bank and the government of Ethiopia in bringing individuals out of poverty. However, he sees the program as a temporary measure.
“The government has to seek sustainable options,” said Messay, “this includes establishing a security fund where all citizens of the country would contribute their share for the target.”
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