TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — The World Bank and Jordan are using a “flawed” algorithm to calculate aid for the kingdom, excluding some people who are impoverished, hungry or otherwise struggling, a leading rights group said Tuesday.
Human Rights Watch reported that the automated program ranks the income and socio-economic status of Jordanian families, a practice known as “poverty targeting.” The report said that approach leaves out some needy people — such as the owners of modest businesses — in a nation of 11 million, increasing poverty and with more than 1 million Syrian refugees.
“Many people in Jordan are not getting financial support because their hardships don’t fit an algorithm’s rigid model of what poverty should look like,” said Amos Toh, senior technology and human rights researcher at Human Rights Watch.
The Hashemite kingdom that celebrated a glittering royal wedding this month is also facing rising poverty. The World Bank said the poverty rate in Jordan — the percentage of those without enough money to meet basic needs such as food, clothing and shelter — rose from 14% in 2010 to nearly 16% in 2019.
Jordan's government and the World Bank did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The New York-based watchdog said they are revising the formula for release in July.
The report cites letters and discussions about some features of the algorithm.
Jordan's National Aid Fund, the social agency administering the program known as Takaful — “solidarity” in Arabic — reportedly assesses whether aid applicants meet the program's basic criteria, such as whether families are headed by a Jordanian citizen and living under the poverty line.
The fund then applies the algorithm, which uses 57 socio-economic indicators to estimate families' income and wealth and ranks them, HRW said. Families that own cars less than five years old or businesses worth at least 3,000 dinars — about $4,200 — are automatically disqualified, it said.
The process, HRW said, “pits one household against another for support (and) fuels social tension and widespread perceptions of unfairness.”
The report quoted an owner of a small tailoring shop in Amman's Al-Balad neighborhood as suspecting that his business was a possible reason he did not receive support — even though losses that piled up during the COVID-19 pandemic forced him to take out thousands of Jordanian dinars in loans to cover his electricity bills, rent and other basic needs.
Families that consume more water and electricity can also be less likely to qualify for support, under an indicator that analyzes dwelling characteristics, the report said.