Maputo: Contrary to government expectations, the level of poverty in Mozambique increased slightly between 2003 and 2009, according to the latest figures from the National Statistics Institute (INE). The INE carried out a survey of household budgets in 2008-09, and the initial results appeared on the INE's website in late September. The INE used a sample of 10,832 households, asking them detailed questions about their income and expenditure, as well as social indicators such as walking distance to the nearest health post or school.
The INE has not yet published the results of the income part of the survey, but the figures on expenditure show that, at current 2009 prices, the average household spent 3,300 meticais a month - which was about 118 US dollars at late 2009 exchange rates. So the average Mozambican household spent no more than four US dollars a day.
But the average hides large regional differences. First, the average urban household spent 5,333 meticais a month, while the average rural household spent less than half that amount - 2,466 meticais a month.
Urban households are over-represented in the survey - 48.2 per cent of the sample was urban and 51.8 per cent rural, whereas the 2007 population census showed that only 30.4 per cent of households are urban. So the real figures for national average expenditure are likely to be worse than those in the survey.
It was no surprise that the survey found that Maputo city is far and away the richest place in the country - the average Maputo household spent 10,497 meticais a month. This is more than five times as much as households in the poorest province, Zambezia, where the average spend was only 2,084 meticais a month.
When the sample is divided into wealth quintiles, further stark differences emerge. The average spend in the richest 20 per cent was 8,780 meticais a month - but amongst the poorest fifth, it was only 771 meticais, equivalent to just 27.5 US dollars.
Households headed by women are considerably poorer than those headed by men. The average household headed by a man spent 3,568 meticais a month, but the average woman headed household only spent 2,660 meticais.
Education makes a very significant difference. Where the head of the household had secondary or higher education, the average spend was 7,151 meticais a month, which compares with just 2,251 meticais in cases where the head of the household had no education at all.
When expenditure is broken into categories, it turns out that 51.4 per cent of average household expenditure goes on food. The amount of disposable income spent on food is a good marker of poverty - in general, the higher the percentage spent on food, the poorer the household is.
In Maputo city, only 21 per cent of average expenditure went on food - but this figure rose to 63.7 per cent in Zambezia and 70.9 per cent in Tete.
The other main item of expenditure is housing and fuel - which was 22.7 per cent of the average spend, but 36.9 per cent in Maputo city (no doubt reflecting the higher cost of housing in the capital).
Clothing and footwear took up 6.3 per cent of the average household budget, furniture 6.1 per cent, transport 4.7 per cent, communications 2.3 per cent, education and health expenditure one per cent (rising to 3.2 per cent in Maputo), and alcoholic drinks a mere 0.6 per cent.
The figures published by the INE also showed that most people do not believe their situation is improving. 30.4 of the national sample said their situation was much the same as the previous year, 40.9 per cent said it was worse or much worse, and only 27.9 per cent said it was better or much better.
But people's subjective assessment of their situation is not a good indicator of poverty. Maputo City is the richest part of the country, but also the most dissatisfied. 53.5 per cent of the Maputo sample said they were worse or much worse off than they had been the previous year. For the poorest province, Zambezia, this figure is only 42.2 per cent.
The province that seems happiest is Niassa, in the far north, where 43.8 per cent said they were better off than the previous year, and only 28.6 per cent said they were worse off.
Looked at in terms of wealth quintiles, the gap is very striking. Among the poorest 20 per cent of households, 54.3 per cent believed their situation had deteriorated over the previous year, and only 12.4 per cent believed it had improved.
In the richest 20 per cent, only 33 per cent thought their situation had become worse, while 34.9 per cent believed it had improved, and 31.4 per cent though it was much the same as 12 months previously.
The Ministry of Planning and Development has compared the INE survey with its two predecessors (in 1997 and 2003), reaching the conclusion that poverty, when measured in terms of consumption, has increased from 54.1 per cent of the population in 2003 to 54.7 per cent in 2009.
The analysis, in a slide show made public by the NGO, the Centre for Public Integrity, showed that urban poverty has declined over this period (from 55.3 to 46.5 per cent), while rural poverty has increased (from 55.3 to 56.9 per cent).
The increase in poverty is almost entirely explained by developments in three central provinces - in Zambezia, poverty increased from 44.6 to 70.5 per cent, in Sofala from 36.1 to 58 per cent, and in Manica from 43.6 to 55.1 per cent. It is surely no coincidence that these three provinces were badly hit by the Zambezi floods of 2007 and 2008.
In one southern province, Gaza, there was a slight increase in poverty from 60.1 to 62.5 per cent. In all seven other provinces, the figures show a decline in poverty - quite spectacular in the cases of Cabo Delgado (a fall in the poverty rate from 63.2 to 37.4 per cent) and Inhambane (where the decline was from 80.7 to 57.9 per cent).