What is the magnitude of poverty in Iran? It’s an important question, but since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, there has been no reliable and comprehensive statistics to allow for objective answers, and for the most part, knowledge about the situation has been shaped by conjecture and anecdotes. But in early December 2018, the Iranian parliament’s Research Center published a pioneering and comprehensive report on absolute poverty in the 31 provinces of Iran [Persian link] for the Iranian calendar year of 1395 (March 20, 2016-March 20, 2017).
The figures give considerable cause for concern.
A report published by the United Nations in 1995 defines absolute poverty as “a condition characterized by severe deprivation of basic human needs, including food, safe drinking water, sanitation facilities, health, shelter, education and information. It depends not only on income but also on access to social services.”
The World Bank has established a more quantitative standard. It sets the poverty line at a daily income of US$1.9 at 2010 prices. This translates to more than US$2 in 2016 prices, or more than US$600 per month.
In 2016, US$1 was worth 3,500 Iranian tomans, so the poverty line in Iran stood at around 2.1 million tomans per month. This number varied in different localities after being adjusted for purchasing power.
The first article in this series introduced the concepts, methods, and statistical data IranWire used to arrive at a general picture of poverty in Iran at a national level. This article examines poverty in the province of Sistan and Baluchistan, which is located in southeastern Iran and shares borders with Pakistan and Afghanistan. In 2016, nearly half of the people of Sistan and Baluchistan lived under the poverty line and could not afford the minimum 2,100 calories necessary for subsistence.
Source: Statistical Center of Iran
Worst Poverty in Iran
Sistan and Baluchistan is the second largest province in Iran, and holds the record for absolute poverty in the country. In 2016, around 45 percent of its population lived below the absolute poverty line.
This means people could not afford to feed themselves an average of 2,100 calories a day, which is the minimum necessary for subsistence according to the parliament Research Center.
It is estimated that in 2016, 1,232,275 people were living in poverty in the province, which equates to 269,341 households.
The average household size was 4.6, around 0.7 percent larger than the overall average at the provincial level. In other words, poor families tended to be bigger than those with more money.
Of the 1.346 million urban population in Sistan and Baluchistan, more than half (54 percent) live under the absolute poverty line. This equates to 149,000 households out of a total of 335,000.
In 2016, the urban poverty line was around 410,000 tomans (US$98) for one person and around 1.11 million tomans (US$263) for a household of four.
However, the size of an urban household in Sistan and Baluchistan is closer to five, so 1.3 million tomans (US$310) would be a more accurate threshold. This is based on the calculation model used by the Iranian Parliament Research Center.
To update these numbers for 2018, we can use the available statistics for inflation per province.
According to data from the Statistical Center of Iran, prices in the urban areas of Sistan and Baluchistan in November 2018 show an increase of 52.7 percent compared with prices in 2016.
By taking this rate into account, it is possible to calculate an updated poverty line for the urban areas of the province, adjusted for inflation: around 628,000 tomans (US$149) per person and two million tomans (US$476) for a household.
Based on these figures, the households in the province where only one member of the family earns the minimum wage currently live under the absolute poverty line.
The unemployment rate in the urban areas of Sistan and Baluchistan is 14.4 percent according to the Statistical Center of Iran. This is one percent above the average urban unemployment rate in Iran.
Sistan and Baluchistan (Source: Google Maps)
Sistan and Baluchistan is the only Iranian province where the rural population exceeds the urban. The rural population is 1.427 million, of whom more than a third (508,000) live below the poverty line.
Around 120,000 households live in rural Sistan and Baluchistan, with an average size of 4.2 people. The region’s poverty line is the lowest in Iran: 201,264 tomans (US$48) per person and 543,413 (US$129) for a household of four.
Inflation data shows the average price of food increased by 52.9 percent between 2016 and November 2018. Adjusted for inflation, the current rural poverty threshold is therefore around 308,000 tomans (US$73) per person or more than 831,000 tomans ($198) per household.
Read the full Poverty in Iran series:
Revealed: Absolute Poverty in Iran, December 7, 2018
Could a 20% Salary Increase Help State Employees?, December 5, 2018
Iran Rushing Toward 30 Percent Inflation, November 27, 2018
Iran’s Economy Is Stagnating Even Before New US Sanctions Hit, October 30, 2018
Runaway Inflation and the Nationwide Trucker Strike, October 4, 2018
Families and Fishermen Lose Out as Prices Rise, October 1, 2018
Living on the Margins in Iran: Bandar Abbas and Hormozgan Province, August 24, 2018
Living on the Margins in Iran: An Introduction, July 11, 2018