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Rouhani is Either Lying or Ignorant about Poverty in Iran

December 16, 2019
Ali Ranjipour
5 min read
A Parliamentary Research Center report revealed that in 2018 one out of four households did not have enough money to provide for food
A Parliamentary Research Center report revealed that in 2018 one out of four households did not have enough money to provide for food
On December 11, President Rouhani announced: "The head of the Imam Relief Committee made it clear to me that there is no absolute poverty in the country today"
On December 11, President Rouhani announced: "The head of the Imam Relief Committee made it clear to me that there is no absolute poverty in the country today"

There can only be three explanations. President Hassan Rouhani either does not know the definition of absolute poverty, his definition is totally different from the scientific, customary, and general definition, or he deliberately lies or deludes himself about the situation in Iran today. Perhaps it is all three. It is possible he has no clue, and that what he means by poverty alleviation is limited to increasing the pensions of the families supported by the Relief and Welfare Committee and paying a subsidy of between 40,000 and 50,000 tomans [$3.50 to $4.20] to the poorest groups of people in the country.

Here’s what he said at a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, December 11: "The head of the Imam Relief Committee made it clear to me that absolute poverty is now behind us, and that there is no absolute poverty in the country today."

If the Iranian president really has no knowledge of the economic situation, he is unaware of official reports and statistics. If this is the case, it is not out of the question that he has been deceived by what the head of the Relief Committee has told him and has ignorantly repeated his untrue remarks. Setting aside economic expertise, the question is, in the midst of the most severe economic crisis in Iranian history, how much common sense can the president actually have?

If the president is either deluding himself or deliberately lying to his people, this is an even more worrying scenario. If Rouhani intentionally makes comments that directly contradict reality, the question has to be: Why, in the current critical situation, would the president want to surprise and anger the public? Talking about the eradication of absolute poverty is simply a denial of an unfortunate objective reality that can only exacerbate the fury of those in crisis — estimates put between 50 and 70 percent of the population to be suffering from hunger and malnourishment.

If it is actually true that he uses a different definition of poverty and has set out a simple strategy for dealing with it, the question is then: Have the pensioners targeted in this policy actually received a rise in payments? The pension amount has risen since the beginning of the year, so it is strange that Rouhani is mentioning the issue again after only six months. If he meant the gas subsidy of between 40,000 and 50,000 tomans [$3.50 to $4.20] per person, that would not be enough to compensate for the rise in the cost of living, or a way of giving concrete help to someone who is living below the absolute poverty line —  especially in a situation where living costs continue to rise due to inflation.


13 Million Iranians Living in Absolute Poverty

IranWire has published numerous reports on poverty in Iran at both the national and provincial level over the last two years. Among them are 31 reports published under the name Iran's Poverty Atlas, which summarize the status of absolute poverty based on official data in each province of Iran. Several of these reports are also available in English, and are listed below. 

These reports are based on Parliamentary Research Center findings, a research project which began two years ago. In these reports, experts at the center identified the absolute poverty line as being people living on 2,100 calories a day or less. Based on this assumption, by calculating and comparing household spending and income in each province, they came to the conclusion that in 2016, around 13 million Iranians were living below the absolute poverty line and were in fact exposed to hunger and malnourishment.

A year and a half later, in May 2019, the Parliamentary Research Center published another report that announced that the poverty rate in Iran was between 32 and 35 percent of the population as of autumn 2018. This means that in that year, out of four Iranian households, at least one did not have enough money to provide for food. The report also contained the disturbing revelation that the government intended to implement a food security plan for 57 million Iranians — meaning that about 75 percent of the country's population had been pushed below the poverty line due to the continuing economic crisis that began in March 2018.

Another study conducted by the website Rouhani-sanj [Rouhani-meter] reveals that between 2016 and 2018, the consumption basket of urban households had shrunk 12.4 percent and in rural households, it decreased by 17.2 percent. This means that if we imagine all of Iran’s people sitting at one table, in rural areas, one out of every five people would have to leave the table in order for the remaining people to eat the same amount of food as they did two years before. In urban areas, one out of every eight people would have to forego their place at the table. The Rouhani-sanj report was prepared in the context of "unfulfilled promises" for "eradicating absolute poverty," and compares the increase in household income and spending to inflation in food prices. The promise to eradicate absolute poverty was part of Rouhani’s 2017 presidential election campaign. Many Iranians hoped the relative stability Rouhani's first term would continue in his second, and that the economic situation would improve somewhat — unaware that the biggest, most overwhelming economic crisis was yet to come two years on from the election. The most dramatic records of economic downturn in the post-revolution period were broken, all during Hassan Rouhani’s leadership.

According to the latest official reports, the 12-month inflation rate ending in November 2019 was 40 percent. The average year-on-year inflation rate for food was about 60 percent. Even in the most optimistic scenario, no one could think that the general income level of the people had increased more than 30 percent. On the other hand, the distribution of inflation shows that the main gravity leans toward the lower-income deciles, meaning that people in low-income groups are struggling with higher inflation rates.

What these two statements reveal is that life in Iran, especially for the poor and those in low-income groups, has become much harder than before. Given the economic and political landscape, there is little hope of recovery, and the likelihood of poverty gripping the entire nation increases day by day.

In such circumstances, talking about the eradication of absolute poverty is a bitter joke with no positive impact. Many helpless people regarding President Rouhani and his government as being to blame for their poverty and suffering. So why, instead of trying to comfort and reassure these people, is he insulting them even further? 


Related coverage: 

Poverty: An Introduction

Revealed: Absolute Poverty in Iran 

Poverty: Semnan

Poverty: Sistan and Baluchistan



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