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Poverty Alleviation Strategy in Gambia
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In a national poverty assessment study conducted by the ILO and published in 1992, an estimated 33 percent of the urban population were identified as "food poor" and 75 percent of the rural population are estimated to suffer from food-poverty during the "hungry season" in Banjul.

Given the low levels of inequality within and among communities in The Gambia, particularly those in rural areas, it is difficult to isolate particular pockets of poverty, it must be dealt with in a holistic and integrated manner.

Historically, it has always been Government policy since independence in 1965 to improve the Gambian people's standard of living. This policy has been pursued in different ways over the years. Among developments which has taken place were the provision of transport infrastructure and implementation of productive projects in the rural areas from the 1970s.

The major causes of poverty are illiteracy, rapid population growth, lack of skills, poor health, limited access to production inputs, drought, insufficient household labour, the levelling effect of extend household system ("shared poverty") and the attitudes of the people including fatalism and superstition. These are compounded by limited access to financial institutions, low awareness of the political process and poor overall communications. Poverty is most pronounced in the North Bank, Lower River and Upper River Divisions with 50 per cent or more of households below the food poverty line. Using these criteria, it is evident that the majority of the population of The Gambia are not able to adequately satisfy their basic needs.

A round Table Conference held in Geneva in April 1994 endorsed the SPA, with The Gambia's development partners and UN specialised agencies pledging their support.

In the context of current government efforts, as outlined in the PSD and as part of an overall attempt to define the longer term direction of a development strategy for the country, the process of formulating a Poverty Alleviation Strategy was started in 1991 with the assistance of the UNDP.

The formulation process adopted a participatory approach, recognising that if a successful strategy is to be developed, it would have to aim at building consensus and mutual understanding, and involvement of all elements of the population.

A national dialogue was thus initiated to begin the public debate about the direction of development efforts. The strategy lies on a two-pronged approach combining (i) macro-economic and sectoral policies aimed at alleviating poverty and improving social services, and (ii) a people centred participatory process which involves local community in managing their development.

It is based on four pillars in terms of its objectives. These are (1) the enhancement of the productive capacity of the people, (2) the improvement of access to and performance of social services, (3) the building of capacity at local levels and (4) the promotion of participatory communication processes.

It was against this background that a Round Table Conference held in Geneva in April 1994 endorsed the SPA with The Gambia's development partners and UN specialised agencies pledging their support.

Following a change of Government in July 1994, and despite the fact that the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council (AFPRC) fully endorsed the SPA, the Gambia's development partners suspended all new development assistance. Thus the process suffered a standstill. However, in spite of the limited resources, the AFPRC Government embarked on the socio-economic component of the Transition Programme to Civilian Rule, in the construction and operation of schools, health centres and skill centres, all of which directly enhance the realisation of the SPA objectives of increase productive capacity and access to social services.

These efforts were fortunately being complemented by assistance by the Islamic Development Bank through the financing of the construction of middle schools and survey on food security to be undertaken by the National Food Security Committee. The Swiss Government is also financing a livestock project. The Government, development partners, NGOs and communities must face the challenge that we propose to change the way we do business.

This will necessarily be difficult as there will be pitfalls, as happens as a young democracy renews itself for the next generation. It will form new partnerships and flexibility, realising that this Programme is not one of Government, but the collective action of one million people who share the same dreams, aspirations and hope. It is for this reason that even with the change of Government, maximum support should be have been given to the Strategy by development partners even if this were to mean doing so either through NGOs or directly to the communities themselves.

By Abdoulie Mam Njie



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