LIMA, Peru — While Peru is defined as an “upper-middle-income economy,” many of its citizens live in poverty. There is a sharp contrast between the bustling capital city of Lima and the rural areas that cover the majority of the Peruvian landscape.
The government is working to even out the rising gap between the classes and it is finding some success. Peru has been capitalizing on its many resources, in particular precious metals, seafood and agriculture. Destinations like Cuzco, Machu Picchu and Lima have boosted tourism revenues and become luxury locations. And with the aid of foreign investment, Peru’s economy has grown an average of 6.5 percent over the last 1o years.
For the most part, this growth has taken place in urban areas, especially Lima. The countryside, particularly the Andes and the Amazon, are still struggling. The rural poverty rate is 54 percent in Peru’s rural areas, much higher than the national average of 23.9 percent.
With this poverty, health issues follow. Rural children suffer from a 33 percent rate of chronic malnutrition. Over 70 percent of children in the Puno region are diagnosed with anemia before they reach the age of three. A 2012 study also found that in the Madre de Dios region, three-quarters of adults suffered from mercury poisoning.
Indigenous persons and women suffer the most from poverty. Native, darker-skinned people are disproportionately poorer than light-skinned people. Seventy percent of indigenous children live in poverty. Women are often left with the task of raising and supporting a family while their husbands leave to find migrant work.
This poverty is bolstered by a number of factors. Food security is variable, as most of the population is fed by subsistence farming. Access to electricity and transportation is limited. And while people can secure land, water and resources for themselves, they may lack an agricultural education to grow crops productively.
There are also high rates of illiteracy in rural areas, as well as a general lack of education. This lack is a major factor contributing to poverty, as World Bank research shows. According to this research, across Latin America and the Caribbean, children are undereducated.
Looking at 15,000 classrooms across 3,000 schools, the World Bank found that, depending on the quality of teacher, the quality of education can fluctuate drastically. The worst teachers accomplished only a year’s worth of curriculum in a year, while the best teachers covered 1.5 years’ worth of material.
Peru is concerned with making its current growth sustainable. One proven solution is investing in the teaching staff. Right now, teachers are faced with low incomes, lower class backgrounds and less education than even some students. The World Bank suggests recruiting driven educators, grooming them into qualified teachers and then motivating them to teach to the best of their ability.
This type of push is necessary in the rural parts of Peru, but it is also hard to implement there. Because the poorest regions are often the richest in resources, children start working as early as age five. There is also unrest in the area. In one month last year, there were 71 riots in the resource-heavy provinces of Ancash, Apurimac and Puno.
These factors make it hard to draw qualified educators to these regions. Most of the population is migrating to urban areas, not out to rural ones. Of those educators who do work in impoverished areas, not all of them are fluent in Spanish, the first language of their students.
In contrast to the countryside, the capital city of Lima has made huge strides against poverty. The poverty rate in Lima for instance was 44.8 percent in 2004, but it lowered to 15.7 percent by 2011.
With a population of nine million, Lima is the fourth-largest city in the Americas. The city also contains 75 percent of the entire Peruvian population, as well as a growing middle class. The average Lima citizen also earns 21 times more than a resident of the rural citizen
This economic boost does not extend far from the city. The outskirts of Lima contain “pueblos jovenes,” communities of people who moved to Lima in the hopes of finding health care, education and work opportunities. One million of such people in Southern Lima live in extreme poverty. Their homes consist of reed mats or plywood and they have limited, if any, access to water or electricity.
President Ollanta Humala’s current administration has instituted social programs in the hopes of stemming Peru’s poverty. Humala has also pledged to reduce poverty in Lima by 15 percent before he leaves office next year. These programs are designed to fight malnutrition and to improve education, gender equality and financial inclusion.
In the past five years, 2.5 million Peruvians have been lifted out of poverty, but the government continues to work to cut down on the number of impoverished people.
– Monica Roth