April 29, 2004

Fight against poverty shows results, says Chissano

The Mozambican government's Plan of Action for the Reduction of Absolute Poverty (PARPA) "is producing ever more visible results", President Joaquim Chissano declared. Giving his annual State of the Nation address to the country's parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, Chissano said that the implementation of the anti-poverty programme "has significantly contributed to the promotion of human development and to the creation of an environment that favours the balanced, rapid and inclusive growth of our economy".

A comparison with the previous household survey shows that levels of absolute poverty have dropped from 69.4 per cent in 1997 to 54.1 per cent in 2003. Chissano stressed that in rural areas, 91.7 per cent of children would have to walk for less than an hour to reach their nearest primary school. In 1997 the figure was 74.9 per cent. 54 per cent of the rural population have access to a health unit less than an hour's walk away, a substantial improvement on the 1997 figure of 40.1 per cent.

However, Chissano was also concerned at the population drift from the countryside into the cities. To reduce this, programmes to attract investment to the countryside had been stepped up. Unemployment was one of the main causes of rural poverty, and so "promotion of employment, through professional training activities and the development of small scale income generation projects remains one of our priorities", said the President. The new school curriculum, introduced in January, also sought to complement the theoretical training of pupils with productive practices, in order to provide them with the skills to develop income generating activities, he added.

Despite the improvements of recent years, poverty remained the government's major concern, "with rather more than half our population still living in penury, unable to ensure basic conditions of subsistence for themselves and their families", Chissano furthermore stated.

But the face of the countryside had changed. "Not so long ago, when we visited the districts and localities of our country, we found people in extreme hunger, asking for assistance so that they would have the minimum to eat", said Chissano. "Today when we visit the same areas, we find the same people, but they are asking not for food, but for markets where they can sell their agricultural surplus". "Now these people are demanding banks in their districts where they can deposit their savings after they have sold part of their production", he added. "They are calling for better roads, better public services, better water supply, energy and communications". The government therefore had to ensure that the crops produced by peasant farmers could be sold. The strategy, including the provision of credit for small traders in rural areas, seemed to be working - for in 2003 a total of 572.000 tonnes of the main agricultural crops was marketed, an increase of 7.000 tonnes on the previous year.

Chissano also pointed to electrification as another success story. "Of the 128 district capitals, 117 now have electricity", he said. "In some districts, electrification has reached the administrative posts and localities". He furthermore stressed that the availability of electricity attracted investments, generated jobs, and thus increased household earnings.

In addition, the President emphasised that Mozambique's development was under threat from the HIV/AIDS pandemic, which he described as "a national emergency". An estimated 84.000 Mozambicans had died of the disease in 2003. Efforts to prevent infection were now complemented with treatment through the use of anti-retroviral drugs, which prolong the lives of HIV-positive people. The number of people receiving anti-retroviral treatment is scheduled to rise from 2,000 in 2003 to 8,000 this year - a drop in the ocean, considering that well over a million Mozambicans are HIV-positive. (Agencia de Informacao de Mocambique, Maputo)

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