Latet organization warns humanitarian aid network could collapse in 2009.
By RUTH EGLASH
One in five poor people has considered ending their life because of their economic situation, according to the Alternative Poverty Report published Tuesday by the humanitarian aid organization Latet.
The report, which takes a more personal approach than the statistical perspective of the National Insurance Institute's annual poverty report, found that more people than ever are requesting food aid and a growing number of those supported by nonprofit organizations say they are fearful of experiencing extreme hunger.
"The situation in 2008 is only a preview of what will happen in 2009," warned Latet's general manager Eran Weintraub, who said the entire charity system supporting thousands of people could completely collapse if the government does not step in.
"Without help, these charities will either be forced to close or severely cut back their activities, and that will leave the poor people of this country even poorer," Weintraub said.
Presented at a special forum to examine the social and economic implications of the global economic crisis, the report noted an increase of 24 percent in the number of those asking for food assistance in 2008 and an 8% rise in nonprofit organizations claiming they do not have enough resources to support all those who need help.
"It appears that in 2008, the poor got poorer and the charities supporting them got smaller and smaller," Weintraub said. "Public disinterest, the decreasing value of the dollar and increasing food prices have all led us to this dire situation. Many more people are likely to join the cycle of poverty in the coming year."
While Weintraub acknowledged efforts on the part of the Welfare and Social Services Ministry to tackle poverty, he said, "Talk is not enough. There needs to be more action."
The most recent NII poverty report, released late last month, said 1.6 million people lived below the poverty line, which is defined as 50% of the median net income and is adjusted to family size.
In March, Nahum Itzkovitz, director-general of the Welfare and Social Services Ministry, issued a report stating that nearly 500,000 Israelis eat in soup kitchens or rely on others to feed them on a daily basis.
At the time, he unveiled a plan to improve the situation. But the initiative, which would include efforts to streamline the nonprofit sector, increase support for NGOs from NIS 30 million to NIS 50m., and the establishment of a public committee on food insecurity, has yet to be approved by the cabinet.
Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog, who attended Tuesday's forum, said his office had been fighting for more than six months to implement the recommendations but has faced stiff resistance from the Treasury, which says the project should be funded from the ministry's current budget.
"It is time to make this issue the responsibility of the entire government," said Herzog, who, following the presentation of the Alternative Poverty Report, said he planned to transfer the balance of his ministry's 2008 budget to NGOs working in the field.
The undisclosed amount will be distributed at the beginning of 2009, he said.
Focusing on three main aspects of the poverty issue - the profile of a needy person, the nonprofits' poverty work and public perception of the problem - the Latet report also introduced the concept of the "hunger line," a measure of the basic nutritional needs of an individual or a family.
According to the report, which is based on information collected from more than 100 charities, more than 82% of people who rely on charities for basic food aid remain hungry and do not maintain a proper nutritional balance.
Out of those interviewed for the report, 36% said they regularly experienced extreme hunger, 24% said they were constantly worried that they would experience hunger and 7% said they were fearful they could die of hunger.
Ten percent of those questioned said that they knew of a needy person who had died because they could not afford to pay for basic food or medical treatment.
"Poor people here no longer need a social welfare safety net, they have already fallen through the cracks," Weintraub said. "Rather, the poor here need to be provided with emergency resources that will help us continue fighting this battle against poverty."
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