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OPINION October 19, 2020

End Poverty Day Jamaica: Focusing on the Immediate but Prioritizing the Future

On October 17 each year, the World Bank Group marks End Poverty Day. This year’s theme is ‘Surmounting Setbacks,’ which recognizes the significant challenges the world is currently facing, and the need to overcome them. The setbacks are acute. Extreme poverty is expected to rise in 2020, for the first time in over 20 years, due to the impact of the global pandemic. A recent report, Poverty and Shared Prosperity 2020: Reversals of Fortune, estimates that the pandemic may push 115 million more people into extreme poverty. An estimated 9.2 percent of the global population still lives below the international poverty line of US$1.90 a day. This figure amounts to 689 million people living in extreme poverty. 

Jamaica’s successful economic reform program has enabled the country to manage the crisis better. Nonetheless, some of the progress made in recent years will likely be reversed, and an increase in poverty is forecasted for this year. Unfortunately, many people who escaped poverty in Jamaica in recent years have been forced back below the poverty line by COVID-19 and its economic impact. 

Tourism numbers have fallen, small and medium-sized business are struggling to keep the lights on, farmers cannot plan for their next harvest, and families are struggling to adjust to, or in some cases, to access online schooling.  

Understandably, much of the focus is on how to alleviate these immediate challenges Jamaicans are facing. However, it is also critical to look toward future opportunities to reduce poverty in Jamaica in the longer-term. Investments and policies that reduce inequality and systems that build resilience will ensure Jamaica is prepared for future shocks, such as climate change. This can only happen if the potential of the Jamaican people is harnessed. I believe that investing in people, and taking a community-centric approach, can strengthen some of the country’s key sectors of growth and reduce poverty. 

For instance, I have seen the difference Jamaicans living in rural areas can make in the tourism and agriculture sectors, provided the right enabling environment. At the recent launch of the second phase of the Rural Economic Development Initiative (REDI), I spoke about Louise. She is one of 172 greenhouse operators who benefited from the work done in REDI I, where prospective farmers were introduced to new technologies and new skills. Louise now sells her produce to the tourism industry, earns a living, and can send her children to school.  

In tourism, similar transformative experiences are possible if we embrace a more inclusive and diversified approach. I was in Treasure Beach in St. Elizabeth over the summer, and I saw first-hand how much potential there is in community tourism. I was running on the beach, and a local gentleman, Thelwell, invited me to run together.. The next morning, we ran through the village, and I greeted neighbors I would have never met, saw farmers working their fields I wouldn’t have known existed, and climbed up hills with amazing views I wouldn’t have found. These are invaluable experiences for tourists, and there is earning potential for community members if the right investments are made to develop these local opportunities. 

The pandemic has shown that Jamaica’s tourism sector, a key driver of economic activity, needs to diversify, be more resilient and inclusive. The dominant form of tourism in Jamaica is the sun, sand and sea approach, which currently benefits thousands of hotel workers, tour guides, and other service providers. However, it does not sufficiently link to rural environments where most of the poor live. One way to make tourism more sustainable and resilient to shocks is to integrate rural communities, which will spread the benefits derived among more Jamaicans.  

The REDI project showed that Jamaicans are resilient and have innovative ideas to better connect tourism and the agriculture sectors to their communities, so the benefits are more widespread. The World Bank is focused on meeting immediate needs, like investing in key sectors of the economy to help generate growth. However, in doing so, we will not lose sight of the priorities for the future of Jamaica: investing in people for a sustainable, resilient, and inclusive recovery.  

And we are not alone in this, World Bank projects reflect a shared vision with the Government, and are implemented with the support of local partners, and other multilateral and international organizations. As the World Bank commemorates End Poverty Day, I am confident that Jamaica has the potential to surmount the setbacks that are before us and to move towards a more sustainable, resilient future for all. 

Ozan Sevimli is the Resident Representative of the World Bank for Jamaica and Guyana.





See also: A video posted to commemorate End Poverty Day in Jamaica, with voices from key partners discussing how they are contributing to this effort.