THE government is adopting a multi-pronged approach to wipe out poverty in Malaysia.
It will help the urban poor, fishermen and farmers and give loans to single mothers and state-land settlers who are sick.
Poverty is a serious problem for 4.5 per cent of households in the country.
The poor living conditions in urban areas are often linked to crimes and those in outlying areas frequently complain about being neglected.
In the general election last month, Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi promised to raise the incomes of villagers by bringing small industries to the rural areas and boosting agricultural output.
A family of five in Peninsular Malaysia is officially classified as living in poverty if the total monthly income does not exceed RM529 (S$234).
The income bracket for a family of the same size is RM600 in Sarawak and RM650 in Sabah. Those termed as 'hardcore poor' earn half of what these families make.
While poverty eradication has often been targeted at the rural population, Housing and Local Government Minister Ong Ka Ting said the government aims to eliminate hardcore poverty in towns and cities in five years.
'We need to look at their living conditions and whether their basic needs are taken care of,' he told reporters on Saturday.
Shelters for the poor and education for children are some of the measures which can be carried out, he said.
Last week, the New Straits Times reported the story of 18 children in a village of fishermen and odd-job workers in Pahang who had no money to go to school.
Datuk Seri Ong said a think-tank, which will include professionals and municipal authorities, will be formed to draw up specific action plans.
Barisan Nasional leaders in Johor set up a welfare foundation to help the urban poor tackle housing problems.
The foundation hopes to provide feedback on the need for low-cost housing with affordable rentals, said Johor Baru MP Shahrir Samad.
Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister Muhyiddin Yassin assured fishermen and farmers that they will continue to receive government subsidies despite pressure from the World Trade Organisation to phase out the financial assistance.
'Many of our farmers and fishermen are still dependent on the government,' he said. 'They lack the means to improve their production.'
Tan Sri Muhyiddin is also striving to move faster with the plan to start cottage industries such as bakeries and mat weaving plants in rural villages.
The government's Federal Land Development Authority (Felda) is setting aside RM300 million to provide loans for single mothers and sick land settlers to buy shares in cooperatives, said a Felda director, Datuk Ahmad Shukri Ismail.
Malaysia has been improving the lives of poor Malaysians. The poverty rate has been cut from 16.5 per cent of households in 1990 to 4.5 per cent last year.
The rate must be reduced further, the New Straits Times stressed in an editorial yesterday. 'It has to be attempted as a matter of social justice and, to a large extent, political stability.'
Parent site: "Focus on Malaysia"