Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Below the Poverty Line! | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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It is sad to be thirsty when you are only a few steps away from a river.

It is painful to go to bed hungry in a place where good food is plentiful.

It is appalling to suffer from poverty while everything around you is a sign of wealth.

These words come to our mind when we read newspaper reports everyday about the vacillation of some government institutions in dealing with the problems of poverty and of those of the needy in Saudi Arabia.

The Ministry of Social Affairs does not think that it is the only party concerned with the issue of poverty. It might be right. The Ministry of Labor, for instance, is supposed to be concerned with this case too, but it is tolerating a state of laissez-faire and, as a result, “some” private sector operators have been exploiting man’s need for work, failing to set minimum wages, and paying the lowest prices for using people’s energies. The report published by Asharq Al-Awsat last Sunday [28 Sept], which discusses the short film prepared and produced by Tarrad al-Asmarien titled “My Salary Is 1,000 Riyals,” sheds light on some aspects of this ordeal. The film’s message is that not all civil servants are spared poverty. It shows a security employee working for a commercial business in Jeddah, earning a 1,200 Riyal salary and providing for a family of seven persons. He works for no less than 12 hours a day and has no social security or health cover. The film leaves it to viewers to imagine how this employee manages to cope with the cost of food, drink, accommodation, and medicine. One realizes then that reducing unemployment without a concomitant fixing of a minimum labor wage does not mean less people in need. Besides, some jobs increase the feelings of coercion, impoverishment, and deprivation among employed people. Furthermore, we should take into consideration the standards set by Saudi researcher Rashid al-Baz, professor of social service at the Islamic Muhammad Bin Saud University in Riyadh, to the effect that “every Saudi national earning less than 1,600 Riyals is making ends meet, and those earning less than 1,200 Riyals are living below the poverty line. The cost of accommodation is not taken into account in these estimates.”

There is no explanation for the wavering of some government institutions that are concerned with tackling poverty. They have no excuses either, given the personal interest that King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz has shown in this issue. This good king considers tackling poverty as one of the priorities of his reign and as one of his important objectives. As for those who are trying to play down the size of the problem by saying that it is “limited and mostly confined in isolated areas,” they should revise the meaning of the word poverty. Poverty is to be found in various towns and regions, and the poor do not need to turn into street beggars for us to see them. In fact, there exists a noble poverty, and we mistake the noble poor for wealthy people simply because they keep their dignity and do not talk about or show their poverty. God is my protector.