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Poor data gathering ‘hindering inequality fight’

by Shamar Blunt
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A trio of experts at a World Bank forum on poverty and inequality in the Caribbean have urged more frequent and consistent poverty surveys to get a better fix on the problem.

Caribbean countries struggle with weak statistical capacity and low data usage, according to the multilateral lending institution. The World Bank’s Statistical Performance Indicator (SPI), which measures statistical capacity at the country level, ranks the Caribbean in statistical performance compared to other regions, aligning more closely with low-income countries.

Appearing Tuesday at a World Bank webinar on Closing the Caribbean Data Gap: Addressing Poverty and Inequality, Trinidad Saavedra, a World Bank economic analyst, said the lack of data continues to challenge authorities.

“In many Caribbean countries, the frequency of the data collection of key data sources is not aligned with the best practice recommendations,” Saavedra said. “None of the countries, except for Jamaica, conduct household surveys for measurement according to the recommended time span of three to five years. Caribbean countries have produced only one or no poverty estimates in the past decade.

“This absence of up-to-date household survey data for poverty measurement hinders the effective tracking of Sustainable Development Goals related to poverty and inequality.”

The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretariat’s Director of Regional Statistics Halim Brizan said the lack of a skilled data-gathering staff throughout the bloc has also hindered regular data collection.

“Obviously to conduct poverty surveys, a team of interviewers or field staff must be hired and other support staff as well,” said Brizan. “Poverty surveys are normally done on an ad-hoc basis as a result, thus not very frequently administered in most countries in the CARICOM region. Therefore another challenge will be that skill sets are not easily retained.”

However, he quickly added: “Although there have been improvements in general survey collection and processing, countries are still heavily dependent on technical support from external experts or international development partners to analyse poverty data, to produce the poverty results and indicators, and to interrupt the results and write the analytical reports. Not having ready access to the skill sets required for data analysis and interpretation, can contribute to significant delays in the data production process, and thus, the dissemination of the results.

“The conversation when the results are available is [also] limited to just the overall poverty rate, and does not get into the characteristics of the poor, and also the composition of the poverty.”

Brizan said that the importance of relevant surveys and statistics cannot be underestimated when seeking to have an accurate view and framework to support the country’s sustainable goals.

“I would say factoring poverty and inequality measurement is an important component of monitoring and evaluation in the context of a country’s national sustainable development plans, which may give priority to either budgeting to either poverty surveys in the recurring expenditure of government, or mobilising funds so that these surveys can be implemented on a consistent basis,” said Brizan. “Ensuring that the surveys are budgeted for annually can therefore be seen as key best practice.”

Rosita Sobhie, a senior researcher and the dean of the Interfaculty for Graduate Studies and Research of Suriname’s Anton de Kom University, also explained that though such statistics are usually seen as only being important for the government, private sector players can also benefit. She suggested better promotion of statistical exercises.

Sobhie said: “The National Statistical Office is very reliant on decision-making from the government. Maybe when we also take the chance to promote our own data and the usefulness of it, we can have other ways of funding.”

(SB)

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