Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Half Iranian urban population under poverty line says report

I originally wrote this piece for Tehran Bureau which published it on March 4, 2011. 

44.5% to 55% of Iran's urban population lives under the poverty line, according to a new report entitled 'Measurement and Economic Analysis of Urban Poverty.'

The paper was presented by three senior government researchers at a conference organized two weeks ago by the national statistics center (Markazeh amareh Iran), under the aegis of several ministries, Tehran University, and the United Nations Population Fund. It was included in a compilation published by the conference, '50 Years of Household Economics,' and made available to the general public on Wednesday, reported the Islamic Students News Agency (ISNA).

The study provides a rare statistical glimpse into the country's economic welfare, a topic generally treated with secrecy by the Ahmadinejad administration.

The authors, Mansour Kiani, Khalil Attar,and Jila Habibi, determined that at least 23.3 million city dwellers are under the poverty line and cannot subsist on their households' incomes. Iran's rural population was not included in the report.

The researchers found that the average poverty line for urban households with 3.7 members is 653,000 toumans (about $630) a month if normal goods are consumed. Tehran province had the highest poverty line, 813,000 toumans a month, while Qom province had the lowest with 523,000 toumans monthly. Using this gauge, 55% of the country's city dwellers are under the poverty line.

The average figure falls to 547,000 toumans a month if cheaper substitutes, for example chicken instead of red meat, are used. In this scenario, 44.5% of urban households live under the poverty line.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's governments, over the course of his two terms, have consistently refused to provide proper statistics concerning poverty, although the 4th Development Plan which was passed into law by the Majlis six years ago clearly requires that the Welfare Ministry issue regular figures concerning the poverty line (article 95.3).

'None of the laws state what should be done or indeed what use it is to know if the poverty line is 100,000 or 400,000 toumans,' then Welfare Minister Abdolreza Mesri told a television interviewer in January 2008. 'Calculating the poverty line is good for the country's planners, but telling the people that if you make 300,000 toumans, then you are poor, only creates mental issues for them and has no other use.'

Mesri's successor, Sadegh Mahsouli, has not been more cooperative. Mahsouli, an IRGC officer who has managed to become a multi-millionaire in between stints in various governments is known as 'Ba-Mahsouli' (roughly translated as bountiful). Before taking the reins at the Welfare Ministry, he served as Interior Minister in the previous administration and, as such, oversaw the 2009 presidential election.

On the eve of the subsidy reform vote in the Majlis, he told Jameh Jam daily last November that the poverty line did not 'have any meaning in our country,' but insisted that the bill being presented by the government would help the poor and 'make the meek more powerful.'

In February of last year, the Welfare Ministry took the curious step of denying the poverty line figure presented a week earlier by the Central Bank.

'Determining the poverty line is one of the duties of the Welfare Ministry, but this ministry has yet to fulfill its obligations,' Majlis representative Sirous Borna Boldaji, who is on the legislature's social affairs committee, told Farda News (close to Tehran Mayor Ghalibaf and not to be confused with Radio Farda). 'Previously it was said that the poverty line was 900,000 toumans, but it is currently being declared that it is 500,000 toumans. Meanwhile, the Welfare Ministry doesn't accept either one of these statistics.'

A lack of hard figures has not prevented government officials from maintaining an optimistic outlook. 'The measures taken by the ninth and tenth administrations (NB Ahmadinejad's first and second terms) have considerably reduced malnutrition and severe poverty in the country,' Seyed Abdollah Emadi, in charge of the poverty alleviation office of the Welfare Ministry, told Borna News in January of last year.

But the authors of the recent report see the outlook differently. 'The conclusions of the poverty model confirm the complexity of poverty and its institutionalization in urban society,' they write. 'It appears that poverty will continue to exist as a social and economic phenomenon, at least over the next ten years.'

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

10 Esfand Scrapbook

The opposition has called for rallies to protest the incarceration of leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi on the 10th of Esfand (March 1). I will not be providing a live blog, but I will regularly post documents and videos related to today's events.

For live blogs, please consult Tehran Bureau and Enduring America (in English) or Mardomak, RAHANA News Agency, BBC Persian, (in Farsi)...

City workers collect large empty trash bins to prevent protesters from setting them on fire, according to RAHANA:

On RAHANA's web site: Mashhad's Ahmad Abad Street has become the scene of heavy clashes between the people and security forces. An eyewitness told RAHANA, 'The clashes are severe. Any more violent and they would be firing mortar shells! The number of arrests is very high. I can say that there have been at least 150 arrests till now.'
This is the first time I'm reading about such numbers of arrests in Khamenei's hometown

Caller to BBC Persian: 'A lot of people were on the north side of Enghelab street. Security forces shot tear gas at us when we reached a crossroads and corraled us into North Kargar Street. Once there, people started chanting. The sidewalks were filled with people.'

Purportedly Shiraz today:

Eyewitness on BBC Persian's call-in program Nobateh Shoma: 'Security did not know what to do. People were everywhere, chanting here and there. The Revolutionary Guards and Basijis started smashing car windows because they were at a loss about what to do. The people have to be thanked for coming out in their cars in such numbers. I'm going home now to freshen up, then go out again.'

Video purportedly of Mashhad this evening:

BBC Persian has posted a video to YouTube, purportedly showing Shiraz this evening. The ability to embed the video has been disabled by the BBC so you have to follow this link to see it.
Unity4Iran has kindly also posted the video. The crowd chants, 'Mubarak, Ben Ali, Seyed Ali [Khamenei]'s turn.':

Banner proclaiming 'Dictator, say hello to the end' hung over Niyayesh Freeway:

And a video of a protester hanging up the banner:

'Honorable army, come towards the nation!':

Eyewitness accounts describe a cat-and-mouse game between security forces and large numbers of protesters who were less inclined to congregate in groups of more than even three or to chant slogans. Security was huge and less inclined to use force unless people stopped moving, congregated, or started chanting. Callers to radio stations and TV stations said that they went out, just to show their presence, but did nothing more because security kept people moving and even closed off streets, telling the people, 'Why do you want to go there? There are no stores there.' Many eyewitnesses spoke of security rushing to places where people had been chanting minutes before, only to hear chants coming from elsewhere:

Monday, February 21, 2011

Reports cite at least one dead protester on February 20

At least one protester was killed during nationwide demonstrations on February 20 in Iran, according to opposition sources.

Hamed Nour-Mohammadi, a second-year molecular biology student at Shiraz University (I had initially written that he was a fourth-year biology student), was thrown off Namazi Bridge in the southern Iranian city of Shiraz, eyewitnesses said.

View Namazi Bridge, Shiraz, Iran - 20 February 2011 in a larger map

Nour-Mohammadi resided at the Dastgheib university dormitory and was a native of Khorramabad, Lorestan province, wrote the opposition Jaras web site (NB He may have been from the town of Alashter, see below). His family is under intense pressure from security authorities to remain silent.

Sources in Iran reported that another protester was shot to death in Tehran's Haft Tir Square, but no details have been forthcoming.

Yesterday's marches were called to commemorate the deaths of two demonstrators, Mohammad Mokhtari and Saneh Jaleh, on February 14.


The semi-official Fars News, close to the IRGC, reported that Nour-Mohammadi was not a protester and that he had died as a result of being run over by a car in a banal road accident.

I came across the following comment on Radio Farda's web site (I've translated it from the original Farsi):
I am a friend of Hamed and come from the same town
Hamed is from Alashtar (NB also in Lorestan province), not Khorramabad
As I'm writing this, I can't even see the computer screen through my tears
My hand is trembling
You mean Hamed?
They killed our Hamed
Hamed I salute you
I salute your sense of honor
Hamed was a true Green
a true patriot
he loved the sunset over Persepolis
That's why he chose Shiraz University (NB Shiraz is close to the ancient Persian capital of Persepolis)
My Hamed, your friends and I will continue on your path
I can't believe it
Just a week ago you said, I'm off to Shiraz, let me take a photo of you.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Pro-regime twitter accounts try to spread disinformation, fear, or calls for violence

Pro-regime Twitter accounts have intensified their activity on February 20 (Esfand 1 in Iranian calendar), a day of protests called by the opposition. The following screen capture shows some of the culprits tweeting the same messages at the same time (From FormoUSAvi to Daghkon). Some of the messages aim to create fear ('Motorcyclists are jotting down our car registration number...) and spread disinformation ('URGENT/ Mousavi arrested + photo'). Others are incitements to violence ('Esfand 1 - a day to demand blood')...