Naubet Bisenov in Almaty -
Over 40% of Armenians live below the internationally recognised level of poverty, according to a survey. However, only half of them admit they are poor.
The poll conducted in 2013 showed that 42% of Armenians said their income level was less than $2 a day, Aharon Adibekyan, director of the Sociometer Centre, told a news conference presenting the results of the poll published in October, according to the ARKA news agency. ARKA didn't provide the details of the 2013 survey, such as when it was conducted or the number of Armenians polled, but Adibekyan said a similar poll hadn't yet been carried out this year.
The UN sets the poverty line at $2 per person per day and the extreme poverty line at $1 a day, Adibekyan noted. According to the poll, over 10% of the poor, which means over 4% of the total Armenian population, live on less than $1 per day, but only half of those living below the poverty line regarded themselves as poor. At the same time, 13% of those polled are considered rich, the pollster said, but only 2% said they were well off. "As a result, the share of those living modestly or the so-called middle class is over 40%," Adibekyan said.
The findings of the poll chime with official estimates of poverty in the country. According to the Armenian National Statistics Service, the share of the extremely poor population stood at 2.8% and that of the poor at 32.4% in 2012, with higher levels of poverty in urban centres – 3.2% and 32.5% respectively versus 2.1% and 32.1% in rural areas. The official extreme poverty level was set at AMD21,732 ($54) and the subsistence level was AMD37,044 ($92.6) in 2012.
The poverty figures also correlate with official data on Armenians' daily food intake showing that a significant share of the population is undernourished. The National Statistics Service report published in August indicates that the daily dietary intake of the poorest quintile was 1,420 calories and the next quintile was 1,865 calories in 2012. The Food and Agricultural Organisation of the UN's 2008 update on the minimum dietary energy requirements suggests that the overall minimum daily per person energy requirement should be 1,680 calories a day.
The Armenian report suggests that bread and potatoes made up 70% of 16.1% of the total population's diet, with the share increasing to 23.4% and 18.6% respectively in the two lowest quintiles of the population.
Widespread poverty and high unemployment (at 16.2% in 2013) force tens of thousands of Armenians to seek employment in other countries, mainly Russia. Adibekyan believes that the middle class makes up the bulk of immigrants. "As a result, Armenian society is getting increasingly polarised and divided into rich and poor," he said.
In turn, these migrants play a significant role in reducing poverty in the country. According to Adibekyan, about 17% of Armenian households live purely on remittances from family members. Remittances make up 10.6% of total household income in the country, data shows. Curiously, the richer the Armenian household, the more it depends on remittances: the share of remittances in total household income increases from 3.1% for the poorest decile of the population to 13.6% for the richest, official income figures for 2012 show.
According to the Central Bank of Russia, a total of $583mn was wired via money transfer systems such as Western Union and MoneyGram from Russia to Armenia in the first half of 2014. The figure stood at $578mn in the first six months of last year. A slight increase in remittances was perhaps possible thanks to Russia's easing of migration regulation for Armenian citizens ahead of the country's membership of the Eurasian Economic Union in 2015. Armenia's accession to the Moscow-led free-trade bloc will remove barriers to movement of people, which is expected to intensify outward migration from the country. This, in turn, should increase remittances to the country and, as a result, help bring more Armenians out of poverty. Remittances from Russia alone were $1.715bn or equivalent to 16.4% of the country's GDP in 2013. For comparison, Armenia's exports totalled $1.48bn last year.
In addition to social stratification, Adibekyan sees another problem caused by emigration: 300,000 children are living without fathers in Armenia who are earning a living abroad, according to his information. "This will lead to the most negative consequences in the future," he concluded.
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