Rethinking Poverty In A Multidimensional Way

Did you know that about 84.3% of multidimensionally poor people in the world can be found in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia? What does it mean to be multidimensionally poor? We’d get to that in a minute.

There are 530 million poor people in South Asia and 558 million poor people in Sub-Saharan Africa.[1]

Out of the global percentage of poor people, 67% of them are from middle-income countries. It is here that the incidence of multi-dimensional poverty can range from 0-57% nationally, and 0-91% sub-nationally.[1]

What does this tell us? It means that just because a country is not classified as poor, or is ranked higher on an international index, it does not mean that its people are not living in poverty.

What Is Multidimensional Poverty?

Multidimensional poverty is the multiple deprivations at the household and individual level in health, education and standard of living. The Multi-dimensional Poverty Index (MPI) collects the data to reflect the incidence, which is the headcount, and the intensity, which is the degree of severity using the average deprivation score.[2]

The MPI allows us to have a comprehensive understanding of the various levels of poverty that people experience and can be used to compare poverty across various countries, and regions. It can also be used within a country to compare poverty amongst ethnic groups, urban and rural locations, and other community characteristics.[2]

Have a look at the virtual launch of the 2020 Multidimensional Poverty Index hosted by the United Nations Development Programme. Prince Clem Ikanade Agba of Nigeria delivered the address.

The 2020 MPI virtual launch event-United Nations Development Programme

Greater Poverty In Rural Areas

When it comes to regions within a country, for every developing nation, the percentage of multidimensionally poor people is higher in rural areas compared to urban areas. For South Asia, 465 million people (37.6%) in rural areas are listed as multidimensionally poor, whereas urban areas only listed 65 million people (11.3%).[1]

But what are the sort of deprivations that affect those categorised as multidimensionally poor?

The United Nations have found that 20.4% of people in developing countries lack access to clean cooking fuel and need urgent attention. [1]

These countries include those located in both rural and urban areas of Sub-Saharan Africa, the Arab States, Latin America, the Caribbean and South Asia.[1]

Environmental deprivation, which is the deprivation of important environmental factors for good health such as clean air, water, and adequate space is also alarmingly high in South Asia.

Source: New Straits Times

The United Nations found that at least 26.8% of the population (486 million people) lack access to one of the three environment indicators listed further below.[1]

Displayed below is a table measuring MPI and its weight. It focuses on three main dimensions and 10 indicators of education, health and standard of living. Anyone who is deprived of at least 1/3 of these weighted indicators are categorised as multidimensionally poor.

Source: The 2020 Global Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI)

Using MPI in Malaysia

United Nations Development Programme Malaysia held a webinar in October 2020 in order to discuss the measurement of poverty in Malaysia during the mid-term review of the 11th Malaysian Plan. It was agreed that measuring poverty should not solely focus on income, but also qualitative factors which reflect the complexities of life for the poor.[3]

It was determined that the non-income factors of poverty can be assessed through measures of education, health, the standard of living, and due to recent developments, even levels of digital connectivity.[3]

The government has begun to adopt a more holistic approach to measuring poverty via the introduction of relative poverty and Multidimensional Poverty Index(MPI) during the mid-term review of the 11th Malaysia Plan.[3]

It was also mentioned that the progress in human development has been jeopardised by COVID-19. Due to this unforeseen event, it is anticipated that there will be substantial impacts on multi-dimensional poverty through two of the most affected indicators. These are children’s school attendance and nutrition.[3]

To paint a clearer picture, there was a simulation exercise with 70 developing nations, and it was found that the economic and social fallout in the wake of COVID-19 may very well set poverty levels back by 9.1 years.[3]

Although eradicating poverty in Malaysia is still a long ongoing battle, the emergence of new data and ideas prove hopeful as we evolve to better ourselves. The government acknowledging and adapting to new definitions of poverty will only serve to help them understand the needs of the people more, so that they may then fulfil them.

Explore our sources:

  1. UNDP. (2020). The 2020 Global Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI). Link.
  2. UNDP. (2020). What is the Multidimensional Poverty Index? Link.
  3. UNDP. (2020). Who are the poor and How are they poor? Link.

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