Mexico receives $280m in international funding to fight urban poverty

 Mexico's geography in the Press  Comments Off on Mexico receives $280m in international funding to fight urban poverty
Oct 172011
 

Today (17 October 2011) is International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. A few weeks ago, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) approved a $280 million loan to help fight urban poverty in Mexico through a comprehensive approach that combines efforts targeting both physical needs — increased access to urban services and infrastructure — as well as social needs of people living in marginal areas.

Co-financed with counterpart funds from the Mexican government totaling $280 million, the program will improve urban infrastructure and access to basic services as well as strengthen social integration, benefiting at least 2.2 million homes a year. A special focus will be placed on populations suffering high poverty rates.

The loan will be used to pave roads, and improve water supply, sanitation, electrification and public lighting, waste collection and disposal, among other actions.

On the social side, the program will foster individual and collective skills and promote social inclusion and community participation and organization. This component includes services delivered in Community Development Centers (CDC), such as training workshops targeting different skills, spare time activities promoting civic integration, prevention of risk behaviors in adolescents, and assistance to female victims of violence and support for senior citizens.

This strategy is complemented by a pilot scheme which seeks to expand and improve interventions in selected districts in order to reduce vulnerability to violence with the help of community-based interventions.

The program includes paving or repaving of 17 million square meters of road surface and the laying of 1,000 km of water pipes, 1,350 km of drainage and sewer pipes, and 168 km of electrical wiring. It also provides for the installation of 57,000 street lights, construction and improvement of a total of 300 centers for victims of violence, construction and/or equipping of 840 Community Development Centers.

[This post is the text of a press release from the Inter-American Development Bank. The project documents can be accessed here.]

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Update on Mexico and the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)

 Mexico's geography in the Press, Updates to Geo-Mexico  Comments Off on Update on Mexico and the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)
Sep 222011
 

In a previous post, we looked at Mexico and the UN Millennium Development Goals. This post is the text of a press release issued by the President’s Office in September 2011:

As part of the celebrations of the 50th Anniversary of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), President Felipe Calderón gave the General Administrator of the Program, Helen Clark, Mexico’s report on the progress achieved in the Millennium Development Goals.

He highlighted the influence of UNDP in Mexico which, throughout its existence, has contributed to the alleviation of poverty and inequality, sustainable human development, the prevention of risks from natural disasters, the implementation of environmental policies and the promotion of democracy.

The main achievements highlighted by the president, regarding the fulfillment of the Millennium Goals, were: achieving universal coverage in primary education, eliminating the education gap between men and women, which eradicated the gender gap in education and increased female empowerment, improvements in the population’s living conditions, through the reduction of mortality and child malnutrition, the sustained increase in life expectancy and specialized care for expectant mothers, the expansion of access to the population’s health services, in which he declared that by the end of this year, universal coverage will be achieved, and the expansion of access to basic services such as safe drinking water, information technologies, communication and decent housing.

The main challenges to be met, said the president, were the alleviation of poverty, improvements in the per capita income and the reduction of the inequality gap. However, he also expressed confidence that they would be fully met in a timely fashion, since he confirmed the fact that the authorities are working continuously to achieve the universalization of pre-school and secondary education, improve the quality of education and improve the Human Development Index through successful programs such as Opportunities and the Popular Insurance Scheme.

The president ended by confirming his commitment to enabling Mexico to fully achieve the values, ideals and agenda set by UN in a timely fashion.

[This post is the text of a press release issued by the President’s Office in September 2011)

The Ethos Foundation’s Multidimensional Poverty Index

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Sep 202011
 

We looked in a previous post at the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), originally presented in an Oxford Poverty & Human Development Initiative (OPHI) working paper, and explained its advantages over earlier poverty measures, especially the relatively crude single-factor approaches like “a dollar a day”.

Earlier this year (2011), the Ethos Foundation, a Mexican NGO, presented its own Ethos 2011 Multidimensional Poverty Index, using the expertise of the authors of the MPI as its starting point.

The Ethos Foundation believes that poverty is comprised of both household poverty, an inability to satisfy basic household needs, and by aspects of ambient poverty that make it impossible for people to achieve well-being given the existing political, social and economic conditions. As a result, their index gives a more “Latin American” perspective on poverty.

In applying its Multidimensional Poverty Index to an analysis of poverty in the eight largest economies in Latin America, the Ethos Foundation concluded that Chile is the country with the least poverty, followed by Brazil and Mexico.

Ethos Poverty Index applied to Latin America's largest economies. (Ethos Foundation, 2011)

The graph shows how the 8 countries rated, with the axes of the graph being household poverty and ambient poverty respectively. Overall, Brazil and Mexico are almost equal. While Brazil has less “ambient poverty” than Mexico, Mexico has less “household poverty”. Both countries have a long way to go to reduce poverty levels to match those in Chile.

What factors are included in the Ethos Foundation Poverty Index?

A. Household Poverty:

  1. Income per person (under $60 a day)
  2. Education (head of household uneducated? One child or more aged 7-15 not attending school?)
  3. Provision of drinking water and drainage
  4. Building materials (solid walls? three or more people sleeping in same room?)
  5. Cooking fuel used
  6. Availability of electricity

B. Ambient Poverty (21 variables in 7 categories, but not all equally weighted):

  1. Public Health (life expectancy, infant mortality, public health access)
  2. Institutions (government effectiveness; corruption; political stability)
  3. Economy (unemployment rate; competitiveness; access to micro-loans)
  4. Democracy (civil liberties; political rights and freedom)
  5. Public safety (homicide rate, vehicle theft rate, confidence in police)
  6. Gender (salary parity, educational parity, women in government)
  7. Environment (CO2 emissions/person; species in danger of extinction; rate of deforestation)

The Ethos 2011 Multidimensional Poverty Index is an interesting and valuable addition to the literature on poverty measurement. It is a salutary reminder to geographers that the world is often too complex a place for the same methods of study and quantification to work well everywhere. The great strength of the Ethos Foundation’s index is that it adopts a Latin American viewpoint on poverty, one that is more localized but of far greater relevance to Mexico than previous alternatives.

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The measurement of poverty: the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI)

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Sep 132011
 

Measuring poverty sounds easy but is surprisingly difficult. What exactly constitutes poverty? What is “extreme poverty”? Simple poverty measures are often uni-dimensional. For example, many poverty figures quoted in the past were based on the proportion of the population having to survive on less than a dollar a day (later revised upwards to $1.25 a day). Such indices are simple and appealing, but inherently misleading. One of the more serious flaws of such indices (whatever the dollar figure used) is that $30 a month may be sufficient to purchase far more goods and services in some countries than in others. $30 in a European city like Geneva will not go anywhere near as far as $30 in the Mexican city of Oaxaca which in turn will not go anywhere near as far as in a mid-sized Chinese city.

The “Human Poverty Index” (HPI) was a vast improvement, since it combined the proportion of the population facing serious shortfalls in life expectancy, with measures of literacy and of living standards. HPI calculations are based on:

  • the percentage of population expected to die before the age of 40 years
  • the illiteracy rate among adults
  • the standard of living, worked out by combining the percentage of population lacking access to health services, the percentage lacking access to safe water, and the percentage of children under 5 years of age suffering from malnutrition.

Even this multi-criteria approach to defining poverty had its critics, with most arguments centering on which criteria should be included, or on their relative weighting within the index.

Another approach, adopted by Mexico’s National Political and Social Development Commission (Coneval) is (as we saw here) to combine income limits (about three dollars a day in this case) with social indicators in a multidimensional system. People in poverty have incomes below the limit and lack access to at least one of the list of social rights.

In 2010, an alternative multi-dimensional index, the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) was published. This has quickly gained international acceptance and is rapidly becoming the preferred way of measuring poverty. The Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) was originally presented in an Oxford  Poverty & Human Development Initiative (OPHI) working paper by Sabina Alkire and Maria Emma Santos: OPHI WORKING PAPER NO. 38: Acute Multidimensional Poverty: A New Index for Developing Countries (July 2010).

The MPI recognizes that poverty is a very complex phenomenon and seeks to identify the “deprivations that batter a person at the same time.” In the original paper, the index was calculated for 104 countries, with a combined population of 5.2 billion. The index consists of ten indicators corresponding to the three dimensions that are used to calculate the widely-used Human Development Index (HDI): Education, Health and Standard of Living. Each of the three dimensions is given equal weighting in the final index. Each of the indicators within each dimension is also given equal weighting.

Multi-dimensional Poverty Index

Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) (From Alkire & Santos, 2010)

Dimension One: Health [weighting 1/3 of total] Indicators:

  • Child Mortality: has any child in the family died?
  • Nutrition: Are any adult or children in the family malnourished?

Dimension Two: Education [weighting 1/3 of total] Indicators:

  • Years of Schooling: Have all household members completed 5 years of schooling?
  • Child Enrollment:  Were any school-aged children out of school in years 1 to 8?

Dimension Three: Standard of Living [weighting 1/3 of total] Indicators:

  • Electricity: Does the household lack electricity?
  • Drinking water: Does the household fail to meet Millennium Development Goal (MDG) targets, or is it more than 30 minutes walk to water
  • Sanitation: Does the home fail to meet MDG targets, or is the toilet shared?
  • Flooring: Is the floor of the home dirt, sand, or dung?
  • Cooking Fuel: Is cooking fueled by wood, charcoal, or dung?
  • Assets: Does the household own only one or none of the following: radio,TV, telephone, bike, motorbike?

From these values, the MPI can be calculated as the product of two numbers:

  • the percentage of people involved and
  • the “average intensity of deprivation” which reflects the number of dimensions in which households are deprived.

Many of these indicators overlap with indicators used to evaluate the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). This means that analyzing MPI should help countries check their progress towards meeting several Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), while focusing on their most vulnerable people. (For details see the original paper). By looking at the simultaneous deprivations of households, it should help policy makers decide where they need to develop new strategies and where they need to refocus their efforts.

How does Mexico stack up on the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI)?

Mexico had an MPI rank of 29 out of the 104 countries surveyed (where the #1 rank means the least poverty), with 10.1% of the population deprived in terms of education, 9.2% deprived in terms of health and 6.7% deprived in terms of living standards.

A cautionary note is needed since any index is only as good as the data used in its calculations, but the MPI does seem to be a far more robust measure of poverty and personal deprivation than any of its predecessors.

Related posts:

Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico is an excellent resource for courses in geography, economics, sociology and development studies, designed to be relevant to both general and academic readers. It provides an up-to-date account of Mexico suitable for students taking initial university or college courses related to geography, economics and Mexican or Latin American studies.  Buy your copy today!

Education professionals are invited to contact us if they would like to request a review copy. In addition, the entire book is searchable via the “Look Inside” feature of amazon.com

Is poverty in Mexico on the rise?

 Mexico's geography in the Press  Comments Off on Is poverty in Mexico on the rise?
Sep 062011
 

According to a recent government study, almost half of Mexico’s population now lives in poverty. The report came from the National Political and Social Development Commission (Spanish language acronym: Coneval). Poverty rates had been falling for several years, so this is clear evidence that Mexico’s economy has been struggling in the wake of the economic recession in North America.

How does Coneval define poverty?

Coneval uses a simple multidimensional poverty index, which considers the following criteria:

  • household income
  • access to education
  • access to food
  • access to health care
  • access to social services
  • housing quality
  • access to basic household services (electricity, water, drainage)

According to Coneval, people living on less than 2,114 pesos (about $180) a month in urban areas (or 1329 pesos in rural areas) and who lack at least one of the basic social rights in the list are living in poverty.

Extreme poverty (see map)  is applied to people living on less than 978 pesos ($85) a month in urban areas (684 pesos in rural areas) and lacking at least one social right.

Map of extreme poverty in Mexico 2010By these definitions, 46.2% of Mexico’s population (or about 52 million people) are currently living in poverty. This has risen from 44.5% in 2008. However, the percentage living in extreme poverty has dropped slightly since 2008 from 10.6% to 10.4%.

The distribution of poverty shown on the map above is not a surprise; we have seen many times in previous posts that the southern half of Mexico (excluding the Yucatán Peninsula) is much less wealthy in economic terms and social indicators than the north, even if it has a wealth of indigenous groups and cultural traditions.

The map below is perhaps more interesting since it highlights the areas where the incidence of poverty has changed significantly between 2008 and 2010. The green areas have experienced a significant decrease in poverty and the red areas a significant increase in poverty. It is clear that the effects of the economic recession are being felt much harder in northern Mexico, where export-led manufacturing is prominent, than in the south.

map of changes in poverty in Mexico, 2008-2010Poverty in Mexico is on the rise, and it is on the rise faster in northern Mexico than the already poverty-stricken south. Only time will tell whether this increase in poverty is a temporary and short-lived trend or whether it heralds the start of tough times for many people in Mexico, especially those living in the rural areas, where the incidence of poverty and extreme poverty are far higher than in urban areas.

Given that the income levels used to define poverty in urban areas are more generous than those used for rural areas, the true level of poverty in the Mexican countryside is almost certainly much higher than this study suggests, something for politicians to bear in mind as they gear up for national elections next year.

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Resistance to government-sponsored change in Chiapas, Mexico

 Mexico's geography in the Press  Comments Off on Resistance to government-sponsored change in Chiapas, Mexico
Oct 292010
 

Kudos to the the New Mexico-based Grassroots Press, for the enticing title “Weaving Webs of Resistance in Chiapas” on an article by Crystal Massey and Rebecca Wiggins. The article reports on a visit to Chiapas earlier this year by a small group from the Las Cruces-Chiapas Connection (since renamed Weaving for Justice), which helps weaving cooperatives in Chiapas market their products through fair trade.

maya-weavers

One of the groups they visited was Tsobol Antzetik (Women United). They describe how these villagers have to carry fresh water (for cooking, washing, drinking) across the village from near the local school. Despite being in one of the wettest regions of the country, they have no easily accessible potable water source.

Some of the women of Tsobol Antzetik belong to Abejas, a Catholic social justice organization founded in 1992, while others are active supporters of the Zapatistas (EZLN). None of the women accepts handouts from the “corrupt” federal government. This means that they refuse any of the possible benefits from Oportunidades, Mexico’s flagship poverty-fighting program, which helps about 60% of all families in Chiapas. The women believe that Oportunidades “hand outs” are a way for the federal government to control the  rural population, and prefer to avoid being politically compromised.

The article quotes sociologist Molly Talcott, who describes Oportunidades as “…essentially sterilizing women and attempting to contain women’s resistances [sic] by enlisting them in a small cash assistance program, which in these times, is badly needed.” Critics of Oportunidades claim that its health care workers are asked to meet sterilization quotas.

The marketing of woven items from Chiapas is an alternative way for women such as those in Tsobol Antzetik and their families to boost household incomes. This is where the Las Cruces-Chiapas Connection comes in. They help market the items in the USA and hope their help will offer an alternative to migration in search of employment to rapidly-growing cities such as Cancún or even into the USA.

The article goes on to examine another much publicized development project aimed at improving the situation in Chiapas, the Mesoamerica Project (formerly known as Plan Puebla Panamá). A side effect of this project has been to force some indigenous people off their traditional land to clear the way for major high-budget, capitalist construction projects.

One of the many strategies bandied about as part of the Mesoamerica Project is the forced relocation of rural Chiapas Indians into what the government calls “sustainable rural cities”, a phrase which suggests a less-than-clear grasp of geography! These would enable easier provision of modern services such as education and health care. In turn, they would “free up” potentially productive land that could then be used for agro-industrial plantations (flowers, tropical fruits, specialist timber, coffee). The major downside of such a proposal would be the demise of an ancient subsistence lifestyle, and an end to the food security previously enjoyed by thousands of Maya families.

Opposition to the Mesoamerica Project has already led to unrest and violent reprisals. It is still far from clear what the eventual outcome of the Mesoamerica Project will be.

Related news: Up to now, Oportunidades has focused almost entirely on rural areas. However, the Interamerican Development Bank recently approved a loan of 800 million dollars to extend the program to marginalized families in urban areas.

To learn more about the evolution of PPP and the idea of “rural cities”, see the three-part article by Dr. Japhy Wilson, who lectures in international politics at the University of Manchester in the UK:

Mexico’s indigenous groups, social geography and development issues are analyzed in various chapters of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico. Buy your copy today, and learn more about Mexico’s fascinating geography. Additional knowledge will greatly enhance the pleasures you derive during your next trip to Mexico.

A small village in Mexico won a 2004 UN Development Prize

 Excerpts from Geo-Mexico  Comments Off on A small village in Mexico won a 2004 UN Development Prize
Jun 142010
 

Every two years, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) awards the Equator prize (worth 30,000 dollars) to communities that have shown “outstanding achievement in the reduction of poverty through the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.”

One of the winners of the 2004 Equator prize was the indigenous community of Nuevo San Juan Parangaricutiro, in the state of Michoacán. More than 340 communities, from 65 countries, were nominated for consideration by the Equator Prize jury. The seven winning communities were honored at a prize-giving ceremony held in conjunction with an international Biological Diversity Conference in Kuala Lumpur, in Malaysia.

The success of Nuevo San Juan Parangaricutiro (hereafter referred to simply as Nuevo SJP) is all the more remarkable since their community did not even exist prior to 1944.

That is the year when all the founding residents of Nuevo (New) SJP fled their homes in “viejo” (Old) SJP as the sizeable town was overwhelmed by the lava erupting from Paricutín volcano. Paricutín first erupted, completely unexpectedly, in the middle of a farmer’s field, on February 20, 1943. It is a sobering thought that only 61 years to the day before the prize-giving, the volcano literally did not exist.

A remarkable account of those early days is given by Simón Lázaro Jiménez, who recounts in his book, Paricutín: 50 Years After Its Birth, his adventures as a young boy as he fled with his parents for safety as their small village of Angahuan was bombarded with red-hot rocks and ash. Don Simón’s is the only first-hand account of any substance written by a native P’urépecha speaker.

The volcano finally stopped erupting in 1952, but only after completely destroying the village of Parícutin (note that the position of the accent has changed over the years) and the town of viejo SJP. All that is left of the latter today are a few broken-down walls and parts of the huge, old church that did a brave job of withstanding the compelling force of the lava as it overran the rest of the town.

The people who fled the volcano (many initially refused to leave, but were escorted to safety by armed soldiers) stayed with friends and relatives and in makeshift camps before finding permanent accommodation, but later in 1944, founded Nuevo SJP after a presidential decree gave them land formerly belonging to the hacienda of Los Conejos.

The new town had to be completely planned from scratch. A gigantic church was built to commemorate the miraculous survival of part of the Old San Juan church which formed a partial barrier to the lava flow. Little by little a new community evolved, fostered in part by the high degree of cooperation required for building a new town and working virgin land.

In 1977, motivated by the abuse of local forest lands by private concession holders, the campesinos of Nuevo SJP organized their own union for farming and forestry workers. In 1981, they began their own forestry industry, and now collectively own and manage more than 11,000 hectares of pine, oak and fir forest. Over the years, their business activities have diversified to include a saw mill, a furniture factory (which has won export orders from Belgium and Ireland), a plant making wooden moldings for export to the USA, avocado and peach orchards, a packing plant which makes its own cases, a Christmas tree plantation, eco-tourism cabins and a resin distillation plant, as well as a store for the bulk purchase and resale of fertilizers. A water bottling plant, to bottle spring water, is one of the community’s latest proposals.

The community’s website gives details of all these activities and includes a link to a furniture catalog for those interested in buying direct. All the wood used is certified as “Smart Wood” (coming from well-managed forests) by the Forest Stewardship Council.

Community decisions in Nuevo SJP are made on behalf of the 8,000 or so residents by a General Assembly of the 1,300 Comuneros (community representatives), which has met at least once a month since 1983.

The Equator Prize was awarded because the forest policies adopted by the community “have provided a boost to local incomes while ensuring that the resource base upon which the community depends is sustained for future generations.” In addition, “the community’s successes have spread well beyond their origins as these novel conservation and business practices have been widely adopted by other indigenous communities in Mexico.”

Nuevo SJP may not be very old, or very large, but it certainly has a really big heart!

For a more detailed account of the history of the volcano, and of the considerable architectural attractions of the village of Angahuan, including its superb church, read chapter 35 of Western Mexico: A Traveler’s Treasury (Sombrero Books 2013).

Original article, as published on MexConnect

Mexico’s Volcanic Axis is discussed in chapter 2 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico. The sustainable forestry project of San Juan Parangaricutiro is examined in chapter 15.

Mar 272010
 

The economic recession has resulted in about 6 million more Mexicans falling into poverty, according to estimates prepared by the Center for Economics and Business Research of Mexico’s prestigious Tecnológico de Monterrey University (ITESM). The study (March 2010) claims that 53 million Mexicans, almost half the nation’s population, face poverty this year.

The National Council for Evaluating Sustainable Development Policy (El Consejo Nacional de Evaluación de la Política de Desarrollo Social, Coneval) estimates that 47 million Mexicans lived below the poverty line in 2008. Since then, an increase in unemployment, rising prices and less disposable income have all contributed to worsen the situation. The ITESM figures suggest that almost 15 million Mexicans will be living in extreme poverty before the end of this year. The fight to eradicate poverty in Mexico has been put back by more than a decade.

Poverty statistics have been complicated by recent changes in the methodology used in government calculations. The current basic food basket for poverty line subsistence in urban areas is considered to cost 874 pesos a month, less than 30 pesos a day. Previously, the food basket was priced at about 1,000 pesos a month. This makes comparisons over time difficult, but means that real poverty rates are likely to be higher than recent official figures suggest.

Chapter 29 of Geo-Mexico “Variations in Quality of Life within Mexico” discusses many aspects of poverty, including  Gender Inequality and Oportunidades, a poverty reduction program.

Mexico’s richest individuals in 2010

 Mexico's geography in the Press, Updates to Geo-Mexico  Comments Off on Mexico’s richest individuals in 2010
Mar 122010
 

The Forbes magazine list of the world’s richest individuals in 2010 consists of 1011 individuals, each with a wealth of one billion dollars or more. Nine Mexicans (all men this year) made the list. The nine richest Mexicans are:

World rank / Name / Estimated wealth according to Forbes / Main business interests

#1 Carlos Slim Helú, 53.5 billion dollars, making him the richest man in the world. Fixed line telephone provider Telmex, cell phone provider América Móvil, Grupo Carso, Inbursa

#63 Ricardo Salinas Pliego, 10.1 billion dollars. Television company Televisón Azteca, domestic appliance store Elektra, bank Banco Azteca,
and cell phone company Iusacell

#72 Germán Larrea, 9.7 billion dollars. Grupo México – mining for copper and other minerals

#82 Alberto Bailleres, 8.3 billion dollars. Mining giant Peñoles, department store El Palacio de Hierro and Grupo Profuturo

#212 Jerónimo Arango, 4 billion dollars. Founder of Aurrerá supermarket chain and Grupo Cifra which controlled VIPS and El Portón restaurant chains, Suburbia department stores and tourist developments in Baja California Peninsula and Acapulco

#655 Emilio Azcárraga, 1.5 billion dollars. Television and media conglomerate Televisa,and Nextel cell phones

#828 Roberto Hernández, 1.2 billion dollars. Banker, one of main shareholders of Citigroup, and tourist developments in the Yucatán Peninsula

#937 (equal) Alfredo Harp Helú, 1 billion dollars. Shareholder in Citibank, telecommunications firm Avantel

#937 (equal) Joaquín Guzmán Loera (aka “El Chapo”), 1 billion dollars. Mexico’s most wanted man, head of the Sinaloa drugs cartel, the main supplier of cocaine to the US market

The combined total wealth of these 9 individuals is a staggering 90.3 billion dollars, equivalent to almost 6% of Mexico’s GDP.

The average earnings of Mexican workers registered in IMSS (Mexico’s Social Security Institute) is about 220 pesos a day or $6,300 (dollars) a year. The combined wealth of Mexico’s nine richest individuals is therefore equivalent to the total annual salaries of 14.3 million Mexicans earning this average salary!

Clearly, there are a handful of extremely wealthy individuals living in Mexico, alongside millions of Mexicans who are living at or below the poverty line. These income disparities have existed for a very long time, and are examined in detail in chapter 14 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico. That chapter also analyzes the spatial patterns of wealth in Mexico, and discusses whether the gap between rich and poor has widened or narrowed in recent years.

Chapter 29 discusses Gender inequities in Mexico and  Oportunidades, a poverty reduction program (both links are to excerpts from that chapter).

Flagship social development program – Oportunidades

 Mexico's geography in the Press  Comments Off on Flagship social development program – Oportunidades
Jan 022010
 

Mexico’s flagship social development program featured in a recent (29 Dec 2009) PBS Newshour segment.

Maybe they read an advance copy of Geo-Mexico (chapter 29)?

Oportunidades (Opportunities) is a government social assistance program to help families overcome poverty. Begun in 2002, it is an extension of Progresa, a program which started in 1997. Oportunidades provides conditional cash transfers every two months to families which meet specific geographic and economic criteria of poverty. The transfers only continue if family members meet a series of goals including children’s regular attendance at school and family visits to the nearest clinic for regular nutrition and health advice. Additional economic incentives are offered for the completion of each grade of school with special emphasis on ensuring that girls complete high school. The payment recipients are usually mothers, who make most child and family health decisions.
In 2008, Oportunidades managed a budget of $3.6 billion. This budget is managed very efficiently with only 4% going towards administrative expenses and on-going research. It helps 5 million families, about one-quarter of all families in Mexico. These families tend to live in the most marginal communities. Oportunidades operates in 93,000 different localities throughout the country, 86% of which are in rural areas. In Chiapas the program helps 61% of all families. The corresponding figures for two other poor states—Oaxaca and Guerrero—are 53% and 52% respectively.

Geo-Mexico goes on to evaluate the success of the program, before concluding that,

Oportunidades is one of the most-studied social programs on the planet. It has been very positively received by international agencies and is a model for similar conditioned payment programs in some 30 other countries. A pilot program called Opportunity NYC is being evaluated in New York City.