A better way of counting the poor?

The MPI might help the international community target its aid efforts more effectively.

This blog piece was posted by Communications Intern Hilde Faugli.

The UNDP has just released a new indicator for measuring poverty – will it make any difference?

The Multidimensional Poverty Indicator, or MPI for short, was launched earlier this month, and promises to be better suited as a tool for allocating funding for development programs etc. The MPI assesses a range of deprivations at the household level, from sanitation and nutrition, child mortality and schooling, to cooking fuel and drinking water.

“The MPI provides a fuller measure of poverty than the traditional dollar-a-day formulas. It is a valuable addition to the family of instruments we use to examine broader aspects of well-being, including UNDP’s Human Development Index and other measures of inequality across the population and between genders,” Jeni Klugman, Director of the UNDP Human Development Report Office and the principal author of this year’s report, said.

The MPI can be broken down into different population subgroups and by dimension to see what type of deprivation is affecting different regions or groups.

So what?

Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI), which has developed the indicator with UNDP support, has analyzed poverty levels in 104 countries using the new indicator. The result is a pretty staggering number of 1.7 billion people living in poverty. Using the more common extreme poverty measure, “1$/day“ (which has actually now been put up to 1.25$/day), the figure would be ‘only’ 1.3 billion.

Looking at India, one of the countries we are working in, the MPI poverty rate is 55%, compared with 42% counted as poor according to the 1.25$/day measure. The MPI also reveals that the rural areas are more affected than the urban, and that nutrition, child enrollment, child mortality and schooling are the prime contributors to deprivation in the country.

Whilst the findings are depressing, I don’t think that anybody working in international development would be surprised that taking on a more multidimensional view of poverty gives higher figures. People are deprived in a multitude of ways, and one single indicator will never be able to cover everything. This measure, as the HDI before it, sheds light on the fact that poverty is not just about income. Whether or not this will translate into a more targeted approach to tackling poverty remains to be seen.

The HDI has been criticized for being redundant, that it actually does not reveal much more than an income measure and that it ranks countries in a pretty similar order. Nevertheless there are interesting exceptions. Sri Lanka, for example, is ranked low in terms of its GDP, but moves up the ranks for HDI because of its good results in education and health.

Ms. Alkire stresses that the MPI “identifies the most vulnerable households and groups and enables us to understand exactly which deprivations afflict their lives.”

It will be interesting to see if the MPI will have an impact on the way countries, aid agencies and organizations allocate their money.

Explore the new index through an interactive world map on OPHI’s website.

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