So OPHI reconsidered poverty from a new angle: a measure of what the authors term generally as “deprivations.” They relied on three datasets that do more than capture income: the Demographic and Health Survey, the Multiple Indicators Cluster Survey, and the World Health Survey, each of which measures quality of life indicators. Poverty wasn’t just a vague number anymore, but a snapshot of on-the-ground conditions people were facing.
OPHI then created the new index (the MPI) that collected ten needs beyond “the basics” in three broader categories: nutrition and child mortality under Health; years of schooling and school attendance under Education; and cooking fuel, sanitation, water, electricity, floor, and assets under Living Conditions. If a person is deprived of a third or more of the indicators, he or she would be considered poor under the MPI. And degrees of poverty were measures, too: Did your home lack a roof or did you have no home at all?
Perhaps the MPI’s greatest feature is that it can locate poverty. Where the HPI would just tell you where a country stood in comparison to others, the MPI maps poverty at a more granular level. With poverty mapped in greater detail, aid workers and policy makers have the opportunity to be more targeted in their work.
So what did we find out about poverty now that we can measure it better? Sadly, the world is more impoverished than we previously thought. The HPI has put this figure at 1.2 billion people. But under the MPI’s measurements, it’s 1.6 billion people. More than half of the impoverished population in developing countries lives in South Asia, and another 29 percent in Sub-Saharan Africa. Seventy-one percent of MPI’s poor live in what is considered middle income countries—countries where development and modernization in the face of globalization is in full swing, but some are left behind. Niger is home to the highest concentration of multidimensionally poor, with nearly 90 percent of its population lacking in MPI’s socioeconomic indicators. Most of the poor live in rural areas.
This reminds me of Bill Gates’ suggestion a few years ago that one of the best ways to help address global issues is to set goals and collect better data. Based on this, the world could use more people who can work at collecting and analyzing data. If poverty is at least somewhat relative (beyond the basic needs of absolute poverty) and multidimensional, then defining it is an important ongoing task.