What does it mean to be poor?

Dorees stands in the doorway of her home in the slums of Kibera, Kenya. Poverty is multidimensional, with living standard being one of the three dimensions identified by the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative. Photo by: Gates Foundation / CC BY-NC-ND

Being poor is more than just the amount of money a person has.

Poverty is a multidimensional issue that concerns a person’s level of health access and coverage, available educational opportunities and quality of life, according to the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative. The U.K.-based think tank released on Tuesday the Global Multidimensional Poverty Index, which helps provide a better understanding of the causes of poverty to better address the issue. The index offers a more in-depth measure on poverty through a checklist of “deprivations.”

OPHI classifies poverty at an individual level and determines whether they are “MPI-poor” or not. The 10 indicators of poverty are subdivided into three dimensions. For the health dimension, the measures are nutrition and child mortality, while for education, the indicators are the years of schooling and school attendance. The living standard dimension is more specific; indicators include cooking fuel, sanitation, drinking water, electricity, flooring and assets (property).

The survey considers a person MPI-poor if he or she is deprived or lacks access to three or more of the 10 indicators simultaneously. The MPI is seen to complement the traditional poverty measure based on income.

“The Global MPI is an important tool to measure and tackle poverty,” OPHI said in the report. “It shows us who is poor, how they are poor, where the poor live [and] how poverty has changed over time.”

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OPHI’s data shows that more than a fifth (22 percent) or 1.6 billion people are considered MPI-poor, and 40 percent of them live in India. Geographically, roughly 85 percent are from the rural areas where development progress remains elusive.

Regarding the kinds of poverty MPI-poor people experience, more than half are deprived from health, education and standard of living. They are the ones living in households where educational attainment is less than five years, at least one member of the family is undernourished and at least one child has died. Inadequate sanitation posted the biggest number with 81 percent.

OPHI noted, however, that poverty statistics in several countries such as Nepal, Rwanda and Ghana have improved on aspects like sanitation, education and health.

But challenges remain for policymakers and the rest of the development community on tackling poverty, especially since higher income does not always translate to reduction in multidimensional poverty, as the data suggests.

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About the author

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    Lean Alfred Santos

    Lean Alfred Santos is a former Devex development reporter focusing on the development community in Asia-Pacific, including major players such as the Asian Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. He previously covered Philippine and international business and economic news, sports and politics.