POVERTY IS about a lack of financial resources, but not only that. As an innovative project of the United Nations Development Program and the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative recognizes, measurements of human deprivation must also take account of health and access to education, sanitation and electricity. The resulting global Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), based on data from 101 countries, covering 5.7 billion people, provides a snapshot of the progress humankind is making toward the United Nations’ ambitious goal of ending poverty “in all its forms everywhere.” The latest edition of the index confirms the sobering fact that 1.3 billion people, or 23.1 percent of the 101 countries’ population, live in “multidimensional poverty” — characterized by insufficient nutrition, irregular access to safe drinking water or a lack of physical property.
Yet from within the report’s details, a more optimistic picture emerges. When the authors studied changes over time in a subset of 10 countries (total population: 2 billion), for which the best data were available, they discovered remarkable progress. Eight of the 10 experienced a statistically significant drop in their MPI scores, which translated to a total reduction of the number living in multidimensional poverty from 1.1 billion to 782 million. Of this 318 million-person reduction, some 271 million occurred in booming, gigantic India, whose total population of 1.3 billion accounted for more than half of the studied group of countries’ total.
Encouraging poverty-reduction data for India may not be all that unexpected. The other countries making headway toward reducing poverty, however, include such unanticipated success stories as Bangladesh, Cambodia, Ethiopia and Congo. In Haiti, the rate of multidimensional poverty fell from 48.4 percent to 39.9 percent between 2012 and 2017, even as its population rose from 10.3 million to 11 million. Peru and Vietnam not only reduced their MPI scores but also increased income faster among the lowest-earning 40 percent of the population than among everyone else.
Broadly speaking, these hopeful indicators, in what have heretofore been considered some of the planet’s most troubled economies, show the long-term benefits — including to the poor — of market-based reforms, growth and an open stance toward trade and investment. They also show the benefits of well-designed interventions to provide public infrastructure, such as schools and clinics. Much of the world — especially sub-Saharan Africa, where 57.5 percent of the population still lives in multidimensional poverty — remains untouched by these positive trends and policies. Nevertheless, the new report confirms that it is rational to hope for, and work toward, improvement and, indeed, that hundreds of millions of people are already living better today than many would have imagined just a few years ago.