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Top priority for poverty alleviation - Prime Minister

COLOMBO: Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayake yesterday stressed that the Government has realised the importance of addressing the major problem of poverty and to meet the basic requirements of the poor by mobilising them to be active partners in the country's economic growth.

The Prime Minister made these observations at the inaugural ceremony of the First Meeting of SAARC Ministers on Poverty Alleviation at Hotel Taj Samudra yesterday. The meeting will focus on important developments in the area of poverty alleviation and also consideration of the report of the First Meeting of SAARC Secretaries on Poverty Alleviation held in Colombo on August 6 and 7.

"Addressing poverty is a major challenge that all SAARC countries are facing today. The political will and desire is to address this problem on a priority basis. The future development of our countries will depend on how we tackle this major problem," he told the delegates.

Under the Mahinda Chintana initiative, it has been proposed to channel more resources to needy people and areas. The Government has already commenced upgrading rural infrastructure facilities and strengthening village community organisations, he said.

The Prime Minister said general indicators have shown that Sri Lanka recorded considerable progress, in terms of quality of life index.

But special attention has to be focused on a number of areas. Malnutrition is still a major problem. The income distribution shows that poor do not get an adequate share of the national resources, he said.

Addiction to drugs, alcohol and other substances has become a common phenomenon for all South Asian countries. This has directly affected to further worsening of the poverty level in low income families. Future poverty alleviation programmes need to be addressed taking these issues into consideration well to reduce poverty in SAARC countries, he said.

The Premier said the 12th SAARC Summit in Islamabad in January 2004 declared poverty alleviation as the overreaching goal of all SAARC activities. The SAARC survey report for 2005 focuses on current issues of poverty reduction and productive employment generation.

Samurdhi and Poverty Alleviation Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi in her welcome address, said under the Mahinda Chintana Goals (MCGs), a Medium Term Expenditure Framework will be developed to ensure the benefits of the high income growth spread across the regions and among low income groups.

The Minister said reforms are needed for the Samurdhi programme, the largest poverty reduction intervention operating in Sri Lanka covering nearly two million low income families. Samurdhi savings and credit programmes have targeted to assist poor to get rid of poverty and improve their income generating activities by offering them investment credit at low interest. The Samurdhi programme has also provided assistance to mobilise community support and complete their infrastructure facilities to overcome the infrastructure needs of the poor, she said.

The Gemidiriya Community Development and Livelihood Improvement Project is producing results effectively contributing towards the Government's strategy for poverty reduction integrating the experience of several countries of the South Asian Region, the Minister said.

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