INDIA: Massive reduction in multi-dimensional poverty laudable but not enough

The United Nations Development Programme’s recently released 2018 Multi- dimensional Poverty Index (MPI) lauds India for a massive reduction in multi-dimensional poverty in the country. The MPI goes beyond looking merely at income to understand how people experience poverty. It uses key dimensions like health, education, access to basic amenities and living standards and gives 10 indicators – nutrition, child mortality, years of schooling, school attendance, sanitation, cooking fuel, drinking water, electricity, housing and assets, to measure the MPI. As a result, people found to be deprived in at least a third of the MPI’s indicators are defined as multi-dimensionally poor.

The data, in fact,-shows that India has almost halved its population living in poverty in just 10 years between 2005-6 and 2015-16, bringing it down to 27.5 per cent from 54.7 per cent. Looking at the statistics, the data seems impressive. Turn, however, the percentage points into real numbers–that is the citizens of India with names and faces and bring in data from other reports- and the enthusiasm starts seeming premature.

To begin with, 27.5 per cent of the Indian population living in acute poverty translates into more than 37 crore or 373 million Indians living in poverty. Bring in more data, from Global Hunger Index (GHI) for instance, and the situation starts looking grimmer! The 2018 Global Hunger Index has ranked India at 103, down 3 ranks from last year, out of total 119 countries, with hunger levels in the country categorized as “serious.”

India’s total GHI score for 2018 is 31.1. The country has succeeded in bringing down only two of the indicators–stunting among children which it has brought down to 38.4 per cent in 2018 from 54.2 per cent in 2000 and the percentage of the undernourished people has gone down to 14.8 from 21 per cent in the same period.

Prevalence of wasting, that is irreversible damage to growth among children under 5 years, has increased to 21 per cent from 18.2 in 2000. The takeaway from the data is horrifying. Apparently, children who most need support from the State, are also the ones slipping through the safety net of the welfare schemes! Incidentally, there are only four countries in the world with one fifth of their children being wasted; India, Sri Lanka, South Sudan and Djibouti. 

Furthermore, the MPI ranks India above South Asian countries, barring the Maldives, with just 1.9 percent of its population in poverty in a headcount ratio on multi-dimensional poverty. Most of them are doing much better in feeding their population and eradicating hunger than India. This makes the data a bit baffling. How are countries like Nepal with a headcount ratio of 35.3 percent and Bangladesh with 41.1 percent, continuously doing better than India in fighting malnutrition!

Nepal, a land-locked county with far less resources, for instance, has brought down the following: STUNTING among children to 35.8 percent in 2018 from 57.1 in 2000 and a proportion of the UNDERNOURISHED in the population from 22 per cent in 2000 to a mere 9.5 in 2018. It has also brought down the prevalence of wasting among children under 5 from 11.3 to 9.7 per cent in the same time. Remarkably, despite Nepal’s rugged terrain and lack of hospitals in many remote areas, even its under-five mortality rate of 3.5 is better than India’s!

The findings are corroborated further by many other reports. UNDP’s own Human Development Index, for example, exposes the fact that the rapid growth of the country has not meant much for its poor and needy. COUNTRY RANK has hardly changed over the years with improvement by only 2 positions from 2012 to 2017. It shows that the priorities of the Authorities are highly misplaced and have not concentrated on health care and education. In fact, the HDI shows a rapid increase in inequality in India. The top 20 per cent of the population owns even more than they did vis-à-vis the bottom 20 per cent of the people.

Clearly, despite the mammoth achievement of halving the population living in poverty, India has a long way to go to substantially eradicate poverty. Poor nutrition is found to be the largest contributor to multi-dimensional poverty. It creates a vicious cycle of poor nutrition leading to poor or no jobs, leading to even poorer nutrition. It is impossible to eradicate poverty without eliminating hunger–something not seen as one of the top priorities of the Government.


Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-059-2018
Countries : India,
Issues : Administration of justice, Democracy, Freedom of expression, Right to food, Right to health, Right to life,