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Atlas of Jordan

Myriam Ababsa

Chapter eight - Social Disparities, Poverty Alleviation and Employment Policies

Poverty and Poverty Reduction Policies in Jordan

Katharina Lenner

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1The extent, depth and profile of poverty have been the subject of much debate since poverty became an issue in Jordan in the late 1980s. Until then poverty among the general population was low (estimated at below 3%), and it was only within the realms of UNRWA and its Special Hardship Cases Program that it was discussed as an issue. However, since the economic crisis of the late 1980s and the IMF and WB-sponsored structural adjustment programs of the 1990s poverty has significantly risen and studies on it have abounded. Since the beginning of comprehensive poverty measurements in 1987 competing studies, using different methodologies, have come to widely varying estimates about the profile of poverty in the country.

Measuring poverty in Jordan
There are many different ways of measuring poverty. The national poverty line is the basic measure which draws a line between poor and non-poor parts of the population and forms the basis for most other poverty indices. While many countries use relative poverty lines, i.e. set the poverty line in relation to the average national income or consumption, Jordanian officials have relied almost exclusively on an absolute poverty line, which defines the cost of satisfying a minimum of basic food and non-food needs. The poverty line is based on expenditure and not income. This means that if a person or household spends less than a certain amount per month on food and non-food items combined, he or she is considered poor.

2While the methodological base for calculating the poverty line in Jordan has changed over time, two aspects have stayed relatively constant: the predominant focus on an absolute at the expense of a relative poverty line, and the preference of quantitative (monetary) as opposed to qualitative measurements of poverty (based non-monatory indicators such as education, health housing). Accordingly, the poverty line is perceived as rather low by many experts active in the field.

3In 2008, the poverty line stood at JD 56.7 /month (JD 680/year) per capita or JD 323/month (JD 3,876/year) for an average sized family of 5.7 members. This means that a household needs to spend at least JD 3,876 per year or JD 323 per month in order to meet its assumed basic needs. Due to differing food and living costs in the different governorates, the national poverty line is broken down to governorate level, where it varies. It is highest in Amman (JD 703) and lowest in Mafraq and Jerash (JD 656) (see DOS 2010).

4While the methodology of setting the poverty line is accurate in itself, an increasing gap has emerged between the public perception and experts’ perceptions of poverty and the official poverty line. One reason for this is that poverty is measured on the basis of expenditure, whereas the public perception of poverty tends to be based on income. This is very significant considering that “real expenditures have grown strongly but real incomes have been largely stagnant” in recent years. In addition, the low level at which the poverty line is set does not correspond to popular perceptions of the poverty line – the latter also tends to include parts of the lower middle class (WB/HKJ 2009). This indicates that relative and qualitative poverty indicators should be better taken into account in order to match the official poverty line with popular perceptions of poverty.

5The poverty rate is defined as the percentage of the population living below the poverty line. Based on different poverty lines, the incidence of poverty has been found to be at levels as different as 18.2% (officially adopted figure in 1997) and 33% (study by MoSD /DFID). Currently, the official national poverty rate (based on a 2008 survey) stands at 13.3%; up from 13% in 2006. In absolute numbers, 75,000 more people had become poor between 2006 and 2008 (see Mansur 2010, DOS 2010).

6Indicators for the poverty gap and poverty severity determine the distance of poor individuals or households from the poverty line in JD. The further away from the poverty line, the larger the poverty gap or poverty severity. Those indicators are relatively low for Jordan as a whole, meaning that most poor Jordanians are just below (or above) the poverty line. Within Jordan, it should be noted that the incidence of poverty and the poverty gap tends to be higher in rural areas, while at the same time two-thirds of the poor live in urban areas. This highlights the importance of the spatial dimension in different measurements of poverty (see HKJ/WB 2009) (fig. VIII.5).

Figure VIII.5 — Poverty rates by governorates in 2006 and 2008.

Figure VIII.5 — Poverty rates by governorates in 2006 and 2008.

The Spatial Dimension of Poverty and Poverty Reduction

7It is only since 2002 that the periodic national Household Expenditure and Income Survey (HEIS) became representative on a sub-district level. Since then the spatial distribution of poverty has become a much-debated issue. A joint report by the Ministry of Planning and the World Bank, published in 2004, stated that the overall poverty rate had declined but noted that in several sub-districts – henceforth termed poverty pockets – severe poverty remained. Those poverty pockets were subsequently defined as sub-districts where the poverty rate is above 25%, and 20 of them were identified. The report noted that most poverty pockets are located in ‘thinly populated desert areas’ (HKJ/WB 2004 : 34).

8These findings gave rise to a new focus for poverty alleviation interventions in the framework of the Enhanced Productivity Programme, a rural development programme spearheaded by the Ministry of Planning and implemented by different national (mostly Royal) NGOs. Its Poverty Pockets Program, now renamed ‘Local Development Program for Less Privileged Areas’ (LDPLA), has particularly aimed at raising living standards by establishing income-generating and productivity-enhancing projects in designated poverty pockets.

9On the basis of the 2008 HEIS, the figures were revised and an updated list of 32 poverty pockets was announced in 2009 (fig. VIII.6). While there have since been some changes, most poverty pockets can still be found in scarcely populated rural areas inhabited by Transjordanians rather than Jordanians of Palestinian origin. Using a methodology that focuses on the poverty rate by sub-district thus shifts attention to those segments of Jordan’s poor. Whereas if instead one determines absolute numbers of poor by sub-district, then the fact that most of Jordan’s poor live in the urban centres of Amman, Zarqa and Irbid is accentuated (fig. VIII.7). The percentage of Jordanian Palestinians among the urban poor is much higher than among the rural poor, and many of them are camp-dwellers or residents of informal settlements. Urban poor Palestinians have traditionally been addressed by specialised agencies – UNRWA and the Jordanian Department of Palestinian Affairs (DPA) - but in recent years also through broader national poverty reduction programmes. The prime concern of these poverty reduction efforts has been the upgrading of infrastructure in camps and informal settlements. This focus partly stems from the widely held assumption that (poor) people can make a living more easily in the informal economies of the cities. Micro-credits have also been distributed to the urban poor – who tend to be relatively close to the poverty line – rather than the rural poor - who often live in more severe poverty and among whom self-entrepreneurship is not as relevant a survival strategy as in urban settings.

Figure VIII.6 — Poverty Pockets in 2009.

Figure VIII.6 — Poverty Pockets in 2009.

Figure VIII.7 — Poverty Ratio and absolute number of poor by subdistrict in 2009.

Figure VIII.7 — Poverty Ratio and absolute number of poor by subdistrict in 2009.

10However, the type of poverty that has received the most political attention to date through major donor-funded poverty reduction strategies and programmes is rural, Transjordanian poverty. This is tackled through a mixture of infrastructure programmes as well as productivity-enhancing measures seeking to motivate people to develop alternative livelihood strategies outside of (shrinking) employment in the public sector or the armed forces. In financial terms, recurrent monetary assistance schemes like those of the National Aid Fund, as well as benefits and pay raises for government employees also play a crucial role in reducing poverty in those areas (see WB/HKJ 2009, Azzeh 2010).

11In recent years more and more voices have been advocating for a change of methodology for measuring and tackling poverty and a stronger focus on urban poverty, because the latter is increasingly perceived as a security problem (based on observations like the spread of drugs or political affiliation with militant Islamic groups). For now, however, the rural and transjordanian bias of poverty measurement and poverty alleviation interventions is still firmly in place.

Nutritional Deficiencies and Poverty | Myriam Ababsa

12Children under 15 make up a third of Jordan population, but 48 % of its poor. Conversely, there are only half as many people aged over sixty among the poor, since their life expectancy is reduced by harsh living conditions, nutritional deficiencies and the lack of healthcare (fig. VIII.8).

Figure VIII.8 — Poor repartition according to age classes.

Figure VIII.8 — Poor repartition according to age classes.

13The prevalence of nutritional deficiencies and anaemia is an indicator of poverty that affects many parts of the population living below and just above the poverty line. One third of Jordanian women and children suffer from various forms of anaemia, the figure reaches over 40% in the poorest governorates of Kerak, Ma‘an and Tafila and in the Jordan Valley. Anaemia in women reaches alarming levels in the Jordan valley and Wadi Araba.

14Thus, households in the lowest income quintile (as defined by the DOS) eat half the quantities of those in the richest quintile, and their food costs one third less per thousand calories (fig. VIII.9 and VIII.10). In the poorest households the diet consists mainly of bread with basic dishes of fried vegetables and onions, with beans and pulses, which are a traditional source of protein. Families eat chicken once or twice a week, and less often since the 2008 crisis. Red meat is only served on special occasions, such as zakat. Fruit is expensive and uncommon (fig. VIII.11).

Figure VIII.9 — Daily calories intake per quintile in 2008.

Figure VIII.9 — Daily calories intake per quintile in 2008.

Figure VIII.10 — Yearly cost of food per person by quintile in JD in 2008.

Figure VIII.10 — Yearly cost of food per person by quintile in JD in 2008.

Figure VIII.11 — Weekly diet of a poor family of 6 (first quintile) in 2006 (WB, HKJ 2009).

Bread and biscuits

22 kg


2.4 kg


4 kg


4.6 kg


2.4 kg




1.2 liters


8.6 kg


14.4 kg

Foul (fava beans)

1.2 cans

Hommus or foul

2 platters



Prepared meals or Sandwiches



2.3 kg


13 bags

Chocolate bars


Bottled drinks

30 liters

Frozen products

6 units

Source: WB, HJK 2009.

15Rural households in the northern regions rely on agricultural production for consumption by the farmer’s family and visiting relatives during weekends, when Amman residents return to their villages of origin (fig. VIII.12). Since there are no farming cooperatives to defend farmers against traders, the price per kilo of many products is lower than the crates they are sold in (JD 0.4), which discourages farmers from selling their production. Thus, a kilo of olives is bought for JD 0.6 to 0.7 by merchants who then sell them for JD 1.3 to 1.5. Consequently, in the governorate of Irbid, many olives are self consumed. The poor governorate of Mafraq produces the most vegetables for self consumption, using pumped ground water. In contrast, poor households in the southern governorates, without water and with very limited arable land, have virtually no self-production, even relative to their small populations.

Figure VIII.12 — Annual goods produced by household for self-consumption by governorate in 2008.

Figure VIII.12 — Annual goods produced by household for self-consumption by governorate in 2008.

List of illustrations

Title Figure VIII.5 — Poverty rates by governorates in 2006 and 2008.
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Title Figure VIII.6 — Poverty Pockets in 2009.
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Title Figure VIII.7 — Poverty Ratio and absolute number of poor by subdistrict in 2009.
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Title Figure VIII.8 — Poor repartition according to age classes.
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Title Figure VIII.9 — Daily calories intake per quintile in 2008.
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Title Figure VIII.10 — Yearly cost of food per person by quintile in JD in 2008.
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Title Figure VIII.12 — Annual goods produced by household for self-consumption by governorate in 2008.
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© Presses de l’Ifpo, 2013

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