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Honduras bucking the trend of declining poverty rates in Latin America

A new report published by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) reveals that poverty is at its lowest in two decades within the region.

In 1990, 48.4% of Latin Americans were living in poverty. By 2010, this percentage had declined to 31.4% (compared to 33.0% in 2009), which represented 177 million people. Of this number, 70 million (or 12.3%) were living in extreme poverty and lacking even basic necessities. The decline in overall numbers living in poverty was expected to continue in 2011, at a projected 30.4% of the population, though the percentage of those in extreme poverty was forecast to rise to 12.8%.

The 2011 report by the United Nations (UN) regional economic body – Social Panorama of Latin America – puts the decrease in poverty levels down to two main factors. Firstly, the income of workers has been rising in Latin America. Even in the wake of the 2009 financial crisis, the region has seen an economic recovery which has been partly reflected in the poverty indicators. The report does however warn that rising food prices could cancel out future rises in household income. The second reason for the drop in poverty is cited as the increasing amounts of state support to the most vulnerable groups, particularly through cash transfer schemes to the poorest families.

However, though the indicators showed a trend for declining poverty rates in ten out of twelve South American countries, two countries – Mexico and Honduras – saw a significant increase in poverty. In Honduras, poverty levels increased by 1.7% from 2009 to 2010, when 67.4% of the population was classified as living in poverty, with 42.8% in extreme poverty.

Such high levels of poverty, along with other economic factors, make Honduras the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, after Haiti.  Most of the poor live in rural regions; three-quarters of the rural population is believed to live below the poverty line. Health and education services are inadequate in many rural areas, so that basic needs of families are not met. This means Hondurans suffers from high rates of infant mortality, child malnutrition and illiteracy.

Though many agencies are working inside Honduras to improve life for poor communities and to support an increase in harvests, food insecurity and famine remain common problems. It is therefore unsurprising that each year 150,000 people (2% of the population) attempt to leave Honduras. Most are young and travel illegally through South America to try and reach the United States. The US deports around 40,000 Hondurans annually back to their homeland. But with extreme poverty so widespread, many of those deported will only try the hazardous journey once again, seeing little hope for a better future if they stay.
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