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The Global Multidimensional Poverty Index Report: The Most Detailed Picture to Date of the World’s Poorest People 2018 – Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative

October 2, 2018

AT LEAST half of the more than 1.35 billion people in the world living in poverty are children. That is one of the report’s key findings.

The index was first developed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative, at Oxford University, in 2010. It is updated every year.

The 2018 MPI reports “staggering” levels of child poverty worldwide. More than 666 million children are living in multidimensional poverty, it says. Some countries are proportionally worse than others: children account for at least half of the impoverished population in 34 of the 104 developing countries surveyed (about 5.7 billion people, or 75 per cent of the global population).

Multidimensional poverty is calculated by three dimensions: health, education, and living standards. These are sub-divided into ten indicators: nutrition, child mortality, years of schooling, school attendance, cooking fuel, sanitation, drinking water, electricity, housing, and assets.

“Each dimension is equally weighted,” the report explains, “and each indicator within a dimension is also equally weighted. A person is identified as multidimensionally poor if they are deprived of at least one-third of the weighted indicators.”

More than 1.1 billion multidimensionally poor people (82 per cent of the total) live in either Sub-Saharan Africa (560 million) or South Asia (546 million).

In South Sudan and Niger — the poorest regions in Sub-Saharan Africa — 90 per cent of the MPI population are children. Of the total population of children in Sub-Saharan Africa, almost two-thirds are multidimensionally poor. In South Asia, this figure is 39 per cent.

Compared with other countries in the world, India has the largest overall number of people living in multidimensional poverty — 364 million people — despite 271 million people “moving out of poverty” in the past decade. This equates to a cut in poverty-rate from 55 per cent to 28 per cent.

None the less, the overall figure is significantly higher than in Nigeria (97 million), Ethiopia (86 million), Pakistan (85 million), and Bangladesh (67 million).

Multidimensional poverty is also “much more intense” in rural areas, the report says. The split is 1.1 billion to 0.2 billion living in rural and urban areas respectively. The contrast is particularly striking in Sub-Saharan Africa, it says, which also has the highest proportion of people living in “severe poverty” (342 million).

People living in severe poverty are deprived of at least half of the weighted indicators — this group accounts for almost half (46 per cent) of the total multidimensionally poor population.

The administrator of the UNDP, Achim Steiner, said: “The MPI gives insights that are vital for understanding the many ways in which people experience poverty, and it provides a new perspective on the scale and nature of global poverty, while reminding us that eliminating it in all its forms is far from impossible.

“Although the level of poverty — particularly in children — is staggering, so is the progress that can be made in tackling it.”

The index this year has been updated to reflect the Sustainable Development Goals: more specifically, the first goal, “to end poverty in all its forms” and “leave no one behind.” Updates include considering child-stunting and age-specific BMI (body-mass index) cut-offs; child deaths within the five years before the survey; houses with inadequate roofs and walls as well as flooring; and calculating six years, not five, of non-deprived schooling.


Kari is a 45-year-old woman who lives in her birthplace village in Bihar, India. She was married to her husband when she was 13, and they have a son and three  daughters. The family is Hindu and belongs to the Musahar caste. During certain seasons, Kari finds agricultural employment related to the crop cycle, often walking 15 kilometers to work. Over time, her left hand has become partially paralyzed. Nonetheless, she strives to work as much as she can. She sows seeds and is occasionally employed by farmers in weeding, for which she is paid INR 25 a day – much less than the prevailing wage due to her disability. During harvesting, she gathers the paddy and wheat crops. Being seasonal, harvesting work barely lasts for more than four weeks per year. She is paid in kind and can keep one-ninth of the produce that she helps to harvest. Overall, Kari works for less than two months annually, with no guarantee of daily employment. Her husband works half the year in Punjab, and their children have left home. Although proud of their children, Kari and her husband regret being unable to educate any of them due to needing “all hands on board”.

Kari wakes at 5 am every day, washes at the side of the road, sweeps the house, and then collects firewood for household fuel. As an activist, she is also a member of a federation of four women’s self-help groups. Boasting over 100 members, they are known for engaging local officials and political leaders on a range of issues affecting the villages. Kari realizes that she is living through interesting times. For years, women like her were stigmatized. Today, thanks to a series of affirmative action steps taken by the Bihar state government, they can access various government schemes. Yet Kari’s household is still poor according to the Indian government’s Below Poverty Line survey instrument and the MPI.

A key advantage of the MPI is that it not only provides a headline number for each country, but it can also be broken down by indicator to show what deprivations create poverty in that country.

For instance, Tajikistan and Peru have very similar MPIs: 0.049 and 0.052, respectively. The incidence and intensity of poverty across these two countries are also similar (12.1% to 12.5% and 40.4% to 41.5%, respectively). What is not similar is the composition of their poverty.

In Peru, 18% of the overall MPI is due to deprivations in years of education, while in Tajikistan, that indicator only contributes 1%. By contrast, Tajikistan has a much higher contribution from malnutrition (35%), double that of Peru. Overall, the living standards dimension is responsible for more than half (56%) of poverty in Peru, while the health dimension contributes the most in Tajikistan.

By delving deeper into the numbers, we can see how two countries that look similar in terms of who is poor actually have very different compositions of poverty.

How people are poor varies a lot – necessitating very different policy responses

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