More than 1.6 billion people live in poverty, new report shows

Children walk in a settlement north of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. ( AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery)

Nearly one out of every four people in the world is living in poverty, according a new report from an economic research group. At more than 1.6 billion people, the group’s estimate is higher than the World Bank’s of just more than 1 billion people.

The Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative looked at 101 countries for this year’s Global Multidimensional Poverty Index. The 5.2 billion people living in those places make up roughly 75 percent of the world’s population. Of those 5.2 billion people, more than 1.6 billion are classified as living in multidimensional poverty. It means they lack basics like clean water, adequate sanitation, education and more. The group’s criteria differ from the World Bank, which defines the poverty line as $1.25 per day.

“[P]eople assume that those living in income poverty are the same people that live in multidimensional poverty – but this is often not the case. Only by using both measures alongside each other can we capture the true reality of poverty,” said Sabina Alkire, director of Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative, in a statement.

Looking at poverty as a multidimensional problem allows for better understanding of what the report calls “intensities of poverty.” The data behind the index can show regions of countries where child mortality is a problem, and other places where there is a lack of access to electricity.

credit: OPHI

credit: OPHI

By examining the various dimensions that contribute to poverty, the index is redefining perceptions of poverty, and conventional thinking on where the affected people live. The majority of people living in multidimensional poverty live in South Asia (54 percent) and sub-Saharan Africa (31 percent). But not in low-income countries. More than 70 percent live in middle-income countries. Highly populated countries like China, India and Nigeria are home to both a significant number of the world’s poor and expanding middle classes.

“As the U.N. prepares to adopt 17 Sustainable Development Goals this September, which will determine the development agenda for the next 15 years, our findings serve as a powerful reminder of the extent of the poverty reduction challenge ahead and the need for an energetic and coordinated response,” said Alkire.

By teasing out the data in this way, the index becomes a tool that can be used to support the goal of ending extreme poverty, taking it beyond the idea of getting people above $1.25 a day.

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Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.