TEHRAN, Iran — In recent years, the complicated web of conflict in the Middle East has undergone a series of ebbs and flows. When the dust settles in one nation, unrest stirs in another. The list of reasons for ongoing conflict is extensive. Some include religious differences between Sunni and Shia Muslims, the perpetuation of authoritarian regimes, wealth inequality and foreign involvement in places where cultural disparities are not only obvious but have been the cause of some conflicts themselves. At the center lies Iran, a stronghold for a Shia-led, totalitarian theocracy and military power where more than 30 percent of the population lives in absolute poverty. Some organizations are stepping up their efforts to reduce poverty in Iran.
Where Iran is Now
In Iran, the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini largely controls the economy and the workings of the government. In turn, he can allocate resources and money garnered from Iran’s oil trade toward poverty-reduction programs. However, there was no administration responsible for the measurement of poverty in Iran until 2004. Despite the creation of regulatory programs, such as the Comprehensive Structure of Social Welfare and Security Law, little action has been taken at a governmental level to alleviate the devastating effects Iran’s involvement in Middle Eastern conflict has had on poverty levels.
Iran underwent an economic boom in the early 2000s, which resulted in an increase in government revenue and the possibility for Iran to channel some of that money to help its people. Unfortunately, nearly the opposite happened. This can be seen using a measurement of undernourishment as one indicator of poverty in Iran. In 2006, when the country itself was objectively growing richer, the rate of malnourished people rose from 5.1 percent to 6.6. Money that could have been used to help people in need was instead used to fund the military and the interests of Iran’s leaders
Organizations Reducing Poverty in Iran
Relief International is a leading non-governmental organization working to alleviate poverty in Iran. It has created projects geared towards rebuilding villages after natural disasters. For example, in the 2017 earthquake that struck villages on the Iran-Iraq border, Relief Internation was among the first responders, providing hygiene kits and supplies to families in need. More than 500 people lost their lives, and almost 8,000 were injured in the earthquake. The disaster left vulnerable people more susceptible to the detrimental effects of poverty.
Afghan refugees have also received aid through Relief International. Since 2017, Relief International has provided educational support to more than 4,000 children. The organization has also trained more than 100 refugees for jobs and small business employment opportunities to get them on their feet.
In addition, newly-developed privately-run charities have become more prevalent in efforts to reduce poverty. While the scope of their impact is somewhat limited, the precedent privatized aid is setting can serve as a model for future programs to help Iranians in need. The Imam Ali Popular Students Relief Society helps children from low socio-economic backgrounds to see that violence is not the only option for their lives. Through empowerment initiatives and a mindset of “breaking the poverty chain,” this organization is giving impoverished children and their families a better future.
Violence has been a part of Iranian’s lives for decades. However, prospects of peace will hopefully strengthen solidarity in grassroots initiatives to end poverty in Iran and allow for the greater allocation to resources to those who need it most. Efforts by the aforementioned organizations working to help the most vulnerable are precedent-setting and serve as an example of what the future will look like for aid in Iran. The impact of these poverty reduction programs put forth by external and internal aid organizations points to a greater initiative to help those most affected by poverty in Iran.
– Jessica Ball