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“Poverty up 10% in 3 years!” PM tells UN

Poverty in Belize, which was already reported at 52 percent based on 2018 data, has increased by ten percent within the last three years, Prime Minister John Briceño told the United Nations recently.

Speaking at the 77th United Nations General Assembly last Friday, Briceño said to the world community, “Poverty is on the increase. …The lingering impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and persistent supply-chain disruptions have contributed to skyrocketing inflation. These economic realities exacerbate an already acute social situation in Belize. Poverty is estimated to have risen by 10% between 2018 and 2021. [And] 45.5% of Belizeans are estimated to be moderately to severely food insecure.”

CEO of the Ministry of Economic Development Dr. Osmond Martinez noted that the poverty rate can also be observed through the lens of the income per capita. The Income per capita was reported by the World Bank to have taken a sharp decline in 2019. An additional 16 percent decrease was attributed to the pandemic in 2020.

“We already had a fragile economy in 2019, with three out of four quarters showing contractions,” He noted, recalling that in late 2019, Belize was already technically in a recession on account of drought conditions. Before Belize had time to recover from the downturn in 2019, the COVID-19 pandemic pushed the already fragile economy into a more than 16 percent decline in 2020.

Using 2018 data, The Statistical Institute of Belize (SIB) indicated that there were “about 52 percent or 201,616 persons were living in poverty.” At the time, Belize’s total population was approximately 388,000 persons. Based on SIB’s mid-year estimates for Belize’s population size in 2022, the Prime Minister’s referenced ten-percent increase implies that close to 250,000 Belizeans—or 57.2 percent of 441,471 persons— are living below Belize’s national poverty line of $7961 for the year.

In terms of measuring poverty, the SIB utilized the ‘Cost of Basic Needs’ Approach. This method estimates the cost of acquiring enough food for adequate nutrition plus the cost of non-food items such as clothing and shelter, among other things. A ten percent increase in poverty places the majority of the population without access to necessary resources.

UNICEF estimates that 49 percent, almost half, of all Belizean children live in poverty as of 2022.

The Regional Look

For its part, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), in January 2022, reported that “the prolonged health and social crisis stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic” had led to the extreme poverty rate in Latin America increasing “from 13.1% of the population in 2020 to 13.8% in 2021 – representing a 27-year setback.” According to ECLAC, this means that the number of persons living in extreme poverty within Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region has increased from 81 million to 86 million.

The ECLAC study, however, also noted that the “overall poverty rate is estimated to have fallen slightly, from 33.0% to 32.1% of the population.” This change signifies that the “total number of people in situations of poverty declined slightly from 204 million to 201 million.

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