Millions live below the poverty line in Iran

Concern over rising food prices mounts as a central bank report says 9.5 million people are living below the poverty line.

Prices of fruit and other products have risen twofold since the new year in Iran.
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At least 14 million Iranians live below the poverty line, according to a central bank report quoted by the press today, adding to concern about the welfare of those worst off in Iran as prices soar. The central bank figures, published in the reformist daily newspaper Sarmayeh, represent one in five of Iran's 70 million population. "If an urban family of four makes less than four million rials (USS425) a month then the family is under poverty line," it said.

In August last year, the social security and welfare minister Abdolreza Mesri said around 9.2 million people were living in poverty, 10.5 per cent of the population in cities and 11 per cent in villages. Mesri also said that two million people live in extreme poverty in Iran, earning less than 650,000 rials (S70) a month. The latest figures come at a time of increasing concern over soaring prices in Iran, which have hit the poor and state employees on low incomes particularly hard. Teachers, for example, earn less than $300 a month.

Since the Iranian new year in March, prices of basic foodstuffs, especially fresh vegetables and poultry, as well as services such as taxis have jumped. Iran's inflation rate ? which has aroused much criticism of the economic policies of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ? topped 26 per cent in June, according to the central bank. President Ahmadinejad has been blamed by many economists for directly fuelling the price rises by ploughing huge amounts of cash into the economy to fund local infrastructure projects.

The government insists, however, that it has inflation under control and that booming oil receipts allow it to splash out on necessary infrastructure projects. Iran, the second biggest oil exporter in OPEC, last year enjoyed oil revenues of $60 billion in the last Iranian year to March. But there has been a sharp increase in money supply growth ? a key indicator of future inflation trends ? to almost 40 per cent during the years of the Ahmadinejad presidency.

He was elected in 2005 on a platform of making the poor feel the benefits of Iran's massive oil wealth, and he has made implementation of economic "justice" the main government slogan. Half of Iran's population are 26 or under. *AFP