According to a recent report of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) titled 'Global Multidimensional Poverty Index 2019: Illuminating Inequalities', vast inequalities exist in countries and among poorer segments of societies on a global scale. The index was jointly developed by the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI) and UNDP in 2010, based on 10 indicators under the broader dimensions of health, education and standard of living. The indicators are: nutrition, child mortality, years of schooling, school attendance, cooking oil, sanitation, drinking water, electricity, housing and assets. The global Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) scrutinises people's deprivations across these indicators and compares acute multidimensional poverty in over 100 countries and 5.7 billion people.
It may be recalled that the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG)-1 declared by the United Nations aims to end poverty in all its forms and dimensions by 2030. Although poverty is often defined in terms of people's income level, it can also be defined based on the deprivations they face in their day-to-day lives. Therefore, the global MPI offers a deeper look for identifying who the poor are and why they are so. The 2019 edition of the UNDP report covered 101 countries including Bangladesh, of which 31 were low income, 68 middle income and 2 (two) high income ones. It was found that 1.3 billion or 23.1 per cent people in these countries were multi-dimensionally poor, and two-thirds of these poor people lived in middle-income (lower and upper) countries like Bangladesh.
Massive variations have been found in multi-dimensional poverty within these countries. Astonishingly, half of the multi-dimensionally poor were children below 18 years and a third were children under 10 years of age. Ten countries including Bangladesh were selected for analysing MPI changes over time, and among them India and Cambodia could reduce their MPI values the fastest; and at the same time, they also did not leave the poorest segments behind. Wide variations in inequality were also found across countries among the multi-dimensionally poor populations. In the 10 selected countries mentioned above, the deprivations declined faster among the poorest 40 per cent of the population compared to the total population.
The MPI findings appeared to be a mixed bag for Bangladesh. Around 41.7 per cent of the population in Bangladesh were living in multi-dimensional poverty, which was surpassed by only Afghanistan (55.9 per cent) in South Asia. In terms of intensity of deprivations as well, Bangladesh (47.5 per cent) was only behind Afghanistan (48.6 per cent) and Pakistan (51.7 per cent) in the region. With regard to population in severe multi-dimensional poverty, Bangladesh at 16.7 per cent was again only better than Afghanistan (24.9 per cent) and Pakistani (21.5 per cent) in the region. But with regard to population vulnerable to multi-dimensional poverty, Bangladesh (21.4 per cent) was the worst performer in South Asia, even behind Afghanistan (18.1 per cent). Bangladesh was at par with Pakistan in the area of population living below income poverty line (24.3 per cent), with Afghanistan (54.5 per cent) having fared worst in the region. And in terms of purchasing power parity (PPP) of $1.90 per day, Bangladesh had 14.8 per cent population below income poverty line, which was only better than India (21.2 per cent) among the South Asian countries.
The UNDP report has also highlighted the inequalities existing at the global, regional, national, sub-national and household levels. It was found by ranking regions based on MPI values that Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia were the poorest regions. The multi-dimensional poverty also varied across regions - from 1.1 per cent in Europe and Central Asia to 57.5 per cent in Sub-Saharan Africa. Even within Sub-Saharan Africa, the incidence of MPI ranged from 6.3 per cent in South Africa to 91.9 per cent in South Sudan. Again, even inside Uganda, the incidence ranged from 6.0 per cent in Kampala to 96.3 per cent in Karamoja. As 84.5 per cent of all multi-dimensionally poor people lived in the regions of Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, urgent actions were needed for addressing the malaise of all-pervasive poverty in these two regions.
Among the 1.3 billion multi-dimensionally poor people across the globe, children accounted for 663 million; and 428 million among them (32.3 per cent) were found to be under the age of 10 years. Among the adults in countries covered by the MPI survey, 17.5 per cent were poor, while the incidence of MPI among children was 33.8 per cent. And 85 per cent of multi-dimensionally poor children were living in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, roughly split equally between the two regions. Therefore, a higher percentage of children are multi-dimensionally poor compared to adults. About 70 million under-5 children in South Asia or 42.8 per cent of the total were stunted or under-weight and 22.7 per cent among them lived in households where at least one child was malnourished. Besides, 36.7 million children did not attend school through grade-8, and 32.3 million (or 88 percent) out-of-school children lived in multi-dimensionally poor households. All these pose a huge challenge for policy makers across the globe.
The 10 countries selected from different income groups, viz. upper middle-income (Peru), lower middle-income (Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Vietnam) and low income (Congo, Ethiopia, Haiti) from across the globe to observe temporal trends, showed progress towards achieving SDG-1. The fastest absolute reductions in MPI were observed in India, Cambodia and Bangladesh, followed by Ethiopia and Haiti. Ethiopia, India and Peru could reduce deprivations in all 10 indicators significantly, while Cambodia and Bangladesh reduced deprivations in nine. India demonstrated the clearest pro-poor pattern at the sub-national level, but rural areas were poorer than urban areas in all 10 countries. Poverty fell at the same pace in rural and urban areas of Congo and Bangladesh. Besides, child poverty came down faster compared to adult poverty in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Haiti, India and Peru.
The UNDP survey found that there was little or no correlation between MPI values and economic inequality in a country measured by the Gini Coefficient. Also taking into account the Human Development Index (HDI) based on education, health and living standard, the report concludes that no lone measure is a sufficient guide for both inequality and multi-dimensional poverty. But they all make important contributions by providing distinctive information for action at the policy-makers' end. However, a comprehensive picture of poverty provided by the UNDP gives an indication about where to target policies, which may be able to address the dimensions where people are deprived -- whether in education, health or in other areas. This, in turn, may enable the policy-makers to lift many people out of poverty if appropriate investments are made at the right time and the right place.
Dr. Helal Uddin Ahmed is a retired Additional Secretary and former Editor of Bangladesh Quarterly.