Want to hear some Good News? Global Poverty is falling (kind of).

July 13, 2023

     By Duncan Green     

The annual Global Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) report, jointly published since 2010 by the United Nations Development Programme and the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI), came out this week.

The 2010 bit is important – the MPI has now been going long enough to start to identify trends in the nature of more nuanced, holistic (poverty plus) deprivation across dozens of countries.

And to live up to this post’s promise of good news, here’s the upside:

‘The global MPI includes harmonized trends for 81 countries, covering more than 5 billion people, and 124 country periods, disaggregated by subnational region, age group and rural-urban area. The findings at a glance are encouraging, showing that poverty reduction is possible, even though most progress occurred before the COVID-19 pandemic:

• 25 of the 81 countries had a significant reduction in poor people’s deprivations in every indicator.

• 25 countries halved their global MPI value well within 15 years, showing that progress at scale is attainable. At least one country in every world region halved its global MPI value, including small countries such as Sao Tome and Principe (2008/2009– 2014) and large ones such as China (2010–2014), India (2005/2006–2015/2016) and Indonesia (2012–2017).

• In terms of absolute numbers, in India, 415 million people moved out of poverty during 2005/2006– 2019/2021. Large numbers of people also exited poverty in China (69 million during 2010–2014), Bangladesh (19 million during 2015 –2019), Indonesia (8 million during 2012–2017), Pakistan (7 million during 2012/2013–2017/2018) and Nigeria (5 million during 2018–2021).

Rewinding a bit, the graphic shows how the MPI is constructed as a composite of 10 indicators spanning health, education and standard of living:

‘For example, a household and all people living in it are deprived if any child is stunted or any child or adult is underweight; if any child died in the past five years; if any school-aged child is not attending school up to the age at which he or she would complete class 8 or no household member has completed six years of schooling; or if the household lacks access to electricity, an improved source of drinking water within a 30 minute walk round trip, an improved sanitation facility that is not shared, nonsolid cooking fuel, durable housing materials, and basic assets such as a radio, animal cart, phone, television, computer, refrigerator, bicycle or motorcycle.’

That’s a fascinating and much richer (and evolving – computers, phones and fridges as basic assets) picture of poverty than $2.15 a day – the World Bank’s standard income-based poverty line.

What else does the report tell us? On this measure of poverty:

Half of the 1.1 billion poor people (566 million) are children under 18 years of age.

Nearly half of poor people live in Sub-Saharan Africa, and over a third live in South Asia

84% of all poor people live in rural areas (even though the world is majority urban).

It can also tease out differences within specific countries:

‘Compare two subnational regions of Senegal (2019). Kédougou, in the southeast, and Fatick, on the coast, have similar global MPI values. Yet deprivation in school attendance contributes more to poverty in Fatick, while deprivations in housing and electricity are stronger contributors to poverty in Kédougou—so pathways to poverty reduction differ. In short, achieving the greatest impact on poverty requires looking below the surface to understand which indicators merit most action in a particular area.’

The report is just skating over the surface. The real value lies in the index itself and the way it allows policy makers and aid agencies to unpack the nature of poverty in different places, how it is changing over time, and so better align their work with how poor people and communities are actually living their lives. Bravo.

July 13, 2023
Duncan Green


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