India has pushed back poverty, still home to most poor people in world: UNDP index

Pre-pandemic data shows 228.9 million poor people in India highest in the world, Nigeria follows at 97 million;
India has the world’s highest number of poor children, amounting to a total of 97 million or about 21.8 per cent of the Indian children population. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
India has the world’s highest number of poor children, amounting to a total of 97 million or about 21.8 per cent of the Indian children population. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The number of poor people in India dropped by about 415 million over the last 15 years, the Global Multidimensional Poverty Index report has revealed. However, the country still has the highest number of poor people and children worldwide. 

India is among many countries that have reduced poverty significantly faster, said Unpacking deprivation bundles to reduce multidimensional poverty report. The study was released by research centre Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI) and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Though the data is impressive, it does not reflect the post-pandemic changes. About 71 per cent of the data for the country from the Demographic and Health Survey was obtained in 2019 before the pandemic and the rest in 2021.

The poorest states reduced poverty the fastest and deprivations in all indicators fell significantly among poor people, the report stated. 

Poverty among children fell faster, it indicated. However, India has the world’s highest number of poor children, amounting to a total of 97 million or about 21.8 per cent of the Indian children population between the ages 0 and 17 years.

It is the first time that the report highlights a special section on India, giving information on 15 years of trends in the country. 

The global Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) serves as an important international resource that weighs acute multidimensional poverty in over 100 developing countries. 

The initiative was first launched to monitor the global MPI progress of Sustainable Development Goal 1, which aims to hold the world accountable for its resolve to end poverty.

The global MPI considers 10 indicators that include health, the standard of living, education and others to determine if a household and people living in it are deprived of the facilities. It also monitors if a child or adult is underweight or if any child may have died in the past five years. 

Among other factors, it considers access to basic amenities such as access to school, housing material, phone, bicycle, television, health, water and others.

However, the information was registered prior COVID-19 and the pandemic may have set back the progress and reduced the MPI values by three to 10 years, the report warned. The emerging post-pandemic information showed that the worst of these projected scenarios might become a reality, it said. 

Most of the deprivation specimens across 111 developing countries showed that 3.9 per cent of the poor people include deprivations on four major factors — cooking fuel, housing, sanitation and nutrition, it added. 

Over 45.5 million poor people cannot access the above four indicators, out of which 34.4 million alone live in India. The others belong to Bangladesh, comprising 2.1 million people and Pakistan, accounting for 1.9 million, making it a South Asian peculiar trend. 

Half of the poor people in India, accounting for about 593 million are children under 18 years of age. This means that one in every three children lives in poverty compared to the one in seven ratio among adults, the report said. 

About 8.1 per cent, that is about 94 million people above the age of 60 or older, are poor. 

About 140 million exited poverty since 2015-16 as per the Demographic and Health Survey for India. Also, the MPI value and incidence of poverty more than halved from 0.283 in 2005-06 to 0.122 in 2015-16 and reduced again to 0.069 in 2019-21. 

Meanwhile, the incidence of poverty dropped from 55.1 per cent to 16.4 per cent over 15 years.

The 2019/2021 data observes that about 16.4 per cent of India’s population is poor, out of which 4.2 per cent live in extreme poverty as their deprivation score is more than 50 per cent. 

About 18.7 per cent of the population is vulnerable and is likely to be pushed to extreme poverty. Out of the vulnerable population that comprises between 20-33 per cent, two-thirds fall in the category where one person is at least deprived of nutrition. 

India’s population is by far the highest with 228.9 million poor people worldwide, followed by Nigeria’s 96.7 million, according to 2020 data. 

Among the poor, about 21.2 per cent belong to rural areas, against the 5.5 per cent who live in cities. The rural population accounts for 90 per cent of the poor amounting to 205 million out of 229 million. 

Moreover, India has become the only country in South Asia where poverty is significantly higher among female-headed households amounting to 19.7 per cent against 15.9 per cent in male-headed homes. 

Nationally, the relative drop between 2015-16 and 2019-21 was faster at the rate of 11.9 per cent annually compared with 8.1 per cent per year between 2005-06 and 2015-16. 

The reason for the faster reduction in poverty in later years is that reducing relative poverty is easier to achieve when starting poverty levels are low, the report cited. The numbers also mean that adults covered more distance towards zero poverty than children. 

Comparing with states and Union territories, the fastest poverty reduction was noted in Goa, Jammu Kashmir, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan. 

Among the 10 poorest states registered in 2015-16, West Bengal was the only one to rule out among the top 10 list in 2019-21. 

The other states, such as Bihar, Jharkhand, Meghalaya, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Odisha, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, continue to remain among the poorest. 

The deprivation in nutrition, cooking, fuel, housing and sanitation calls for an integrated policy for packaging the needs of 125 million Indians that belong to the deprivation profiles, the study said.

The policy should also ensure that households have access to subsidised food, early childcare centres and mid-day meals in schools, it added. 

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