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The UN is redefining what it means to live in poverty
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The UN, in conjunction with Oxford, has created a multidimensional global poverty measurement tool. The goal is to capture the realities of poverty in ways income-based poverty assessments cannot. - photo by Omar Etman
Data from the United Nation's 2015 report on global poverty is out showing the number of poor people is growing thanks to an evolving definition of poverty.

The findings are the result of years of working with the University of Oxford to better define what it means to be poor.

An initial outcome of their effort, unveiled in 2010, was the Global Multidimensional Poverty Index, a poverty measurement tool that considers factors that constitute poor peoples experience of deprivation, according to the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative, the institute responsible for the data. In effect, the MPI captures the realities of poverty in ways income-based poverty assessments cannot.

The MPI is divided into three dimensions (education, health, standard of living) that are split into 10 indicators. A person is multidimensionally poor if she is deprived in one third or more of the weighted indicators. Because poor people go beyond income when defining their experience of living in poverty, so too does OPHI in calculating it.

Participatory exercises reveal that poor people describe ill-being to include poor health, nutrition, lack of adequate sanitation and clean water, social exclusion, low education, bad housing conditions, violence, shame, disempowerment and much more, OPHI explains all things factored into the MPI.

Complete data is not yet available for all countries. As such, MPIs 2015 index covers 101 developing countries that comprise only 75 percent of the worlds population, or 5.2 billion people.

According to OPHIs latest report, more than 1.6 billion of those people are living in multidimensional poverty exceeding the estimated 1.2 billion who live on less than $1.25 a day, the traditional threshold of poverty.

The report also revealed that nearly 70 percent of MPI poor people dont live in low-income countries but middle-income countries, refuting the idea that GDP growth guarantees a reduction in poverty. In the past decade, India has enjoyed enormous GDP growth but also watched poverty grow more widespread and extreme, The Hindu reported.

The MPI unravels other misconceptions.

In certain countries, including Mexico, Pakistan and Egypt, the number of those living in multidimensional poverty is twice the number who are living on less than $1.25 a day, Sabina Alkire, director of OPHI, wrote in The Guardian. This emphasises how the MPI complements monetary poverty measures, as both together better capture the true reality of poverty.

As the UNs sustainable development goals from 2000 are set to expire, member states are finalizing development goals that will frame their agendas for the next 15 years goals shaped by the incorporation of MPI data.

The MPI is a work in progress, a point OPHI admits in its report. But for the UN, this metric signals progress. After all, Alkire says, the first step to ending poverty is learning to measure it properly.

By pinpointing exactly how and where people are poor, she wrote, national MPIs enable governments to better target their resources and combat poverty more effectively through integrated and well-coordinated policy interventions.