1.6 billion people living in poverty, says report


An estimated 1.6 billion people around the world are living in multidimensional poverty, says a new analysis by the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative.

It is a significantly higher estimate than 1.2 billion people who live in income poverty. The difference is accounted for by looking at education levels, electricity access, nutrition and more in 108 countries across the world. All of this is contained in the Global Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) 2014, released yesterday at a London event.

Global leaders advocated for such an index to be used as a way of tracking progress, during the UN General Assembly last September. It is a part of a general unhappiness with the use of only income as determining whether a person is living in poverty. The $1 a day income has stood as the extreme poverty line, with some revisions to increase it to as high as $2 a day.

“Radical social advances are only possible if we understand – through careful observation and analysis – the deep roots of our poverty and the many shades of inequality within our society,” said President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia. “Hence the urgency of implementing a multidimensional approach in our battle against poverty.”

The MPI hones in on what it considers the three dimensions of poverty: health, education and living standard. Income is still a measure of poverty, but it is included with other basic needs for every person. The index estimated that some 600 million people are considered to be in extreme lack of the most basic needs (or destitute). The majority of which are living in India (343 million).

HT Duncan Green

There is some good news in the report. Countries have made major gains in reducing the number of people who are considered destitute. Ethiopia led the way between 2000 and 2011 in seeing the number of destitute people decline by 30 percentage points. Other notable gains were made in Bolivia, Tanzania, Haiti and Bangladesh. In sum, 30 out of the 34 countries with adequate data saw multi-dimensional poverty decrease over the past decade.

On the other hand, there are some countries that are struggling in reducing poverty. Accoridng to the MPI, 89.3% of people living in Niger are considered to be multi-dimensionally poor. It also shows that most people living in poverty are in rural, not urban settings. Oxfam’s Duncan Green says that upends the wisdom that things are worse in cities.

“The rural/urban finding is interesting – lots of discussion elsewhere about whether income poverty can be meaningfully compared between urban and rural settings, for example because you need money for lots of things in urban settings that come free in rural (so urban poverty is higher, for a given level of income),” blogged Green in From Poverty to Power. “But the MPI finds the opposite – in terms of multi-dimensional poverty, the benefits of urban outweigh the costs, so the proportion of the MD poor is higher in rural areas than for income poverty.”

However, the findings are being contested. David Satterthwaite, a senior fellow for the International Institute for Environment and Development, says that the indicators used in urban and rural settings cannot be the same. He gives the example that asking if someone has a dirt floor makes sens in a rural setting, but with people living in multi-floor homes, it does not yield the same information for a family that lives on the third floor of a building in a slum.

He applies the same to the issue of assets, like phones and radios, and the provision of water and sanitation. Satterthwaite concludes that more data is necessary to understand the lives of the urban poor and get better calculations than the index.

“To address deprivation in both rural and urban areas, local governments need data on exactly who within their jurisdiction lacks good quality and safe provision for water, sanitation and basic services and where they live,” he blogs.

What the MPI does is moves the conversation about what constitutes poverty forward. It has been going on for years in regards to what determines whether a person is poor or not. What will need to be answered next is what this data tells governments, policy makers, donors and NGOs.


About Author

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.