POVERTY IN BULGARIA ESTIMATED AT USD338,000
Deputy Premier and Minister of Labour and Social Policies Lidiya Shouleva and the World Bank (WB) Director for Croatia, Bulgaria, and Romania Andrew Vorkink signed on December 13 an agreement for USD338,000 of free aid for our country. The money will be extended by the WB's Fund for Institutionl Development and will be spent on the establishment of a special body with the Social Ministry for monitoring and control of poverty in Bulgaria. It should find out the social groups that need additional financial assistance.After the official signing of the agreement it became clear that Mr. Vorkink had presented to Ms. Shouleva the preliminary results of the WB's report, estimating the poverty rate in Bulgaria. The WB has found that poverty in our country has decreased considerably over the last four years. While 37% of Bulgarians were below the poverty threshold in 1997, now 11% fall into this category, the WB's data show. Consumption and not incomes was the major criteria in the study. We accepted this attitude in order to avoid distortion of data due to hiding part of the incomes, Mr. Vorkink explained. According to him, the decreased rate of poverty in Bulgaria was mainly a result of the better functioning of the social assistance programmes.However, the WB's report points out that there are still social groups in the country where the poverty rate is very high.Poverty is especially high among the Romany and Turkish minorities the WB's experts wrote. The regions of Plovdiv, Varna, and Bourgas are quoted in the report as districts with predominantly poor population.Mr. Vorkink underlined that the Cabinet should continue to work for revving up the labour market and for increasing the employment rate. A team of WB experts and Bulgarian authorities have discussed a project for the establishment of a fund for social assistance. In the beginning of 2002 the WB and Bulgaria are expected to sign an agreement for USD50MN, intended to finance this initiative.