The low income population was hit the hardest during the first wave of Covid-19 last year. Photo: Eakarin Ekartchariyawong

Covid-19 exposes poverty vulnerabilities whereas the new analysis shows a decline in multifaceted poverty worldwide

Thailand, while scoring the lowest in Asean in terms of such multi-dimensional poverty, this is still higher than that measured based on income alone, suggesting that the country’s population may possibly still suffer deprivations in heath, education, or standard of living, inspite of the fact that their income is above the monetary poverty line

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in partnership with the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI) have released a new analysis on the so-called “multidimensional poverty” and index to measure poverty in multidimensions that people face more comprehensively. This coincides with the International Day of Poverty Eradication taking place this Sunday, where there is a growing call for more attention on the issue and its multi-facets.

Developed by the organizations over the past ten years, the analysis and the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) is a measure that tries to address poverty beyond income by including at least 10 key indicators influencing people’s lives at different periods; be they education, health, the standard of living, and others. A lower score of the index implies a lower poverty ranking.  

The 2021 MPI covers 109 developing countries, which are home to 5.9 billion people. The analysis shows that 70 countries studied, covering roughly 5 billion people, experienced a statistically significant reduction in their multidimensional poverty levels at least one period during the two decades before the COVID-19. Nevertheless,1.3 billion people, which are about 92 per cent of the population in developing countries (21.7% of the world’s), remain multidimensionally poor, the organisations noted.

The analysis report, Global Multidimensional Poverty Index 2021: Unmasking disparities by ethnicity, caste and gender, especially shines a light on how poverty is exacerbated by existing inequalities, for example, across ethnic groups and among women. Disparities across ethnic and racial groups should be prioritized by policymakers to achieve fair inclusive development post-Covid-19, the organisations said.

While complete data on COVID-19’s impacts on the MPI are not yet available, the pandemic has already exposed cracks in social protection systems, education, and workers’ vulnerability around the world. These cracks, the analysis shows, are deepest in countries with higher levels of multidimensional poverty.

The severity of the COVID-19 crisis in the world’s poorest countries has been underestimated because limited direct mortality has kept them outside the international spotlight. The analysis shows that people in the poorest countries are being impacted in far-reaching ways with consequences that remain to be seen.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has eroded development progress around the world, and we are still grappling to understand its full impacts,” said Mr. Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator. “This year’s Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) reminds us of the need for a complete picture of how people are being affected by poverty, who they are, and where they live if we are to build forward better from this crisis and design effective responses that leave no one behind.”

MPI’s key indicators.

Thailand’s MPI this year, meanwhile, has scored at 0.002, the lowest among the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries that are included in the study. Its neighbouring Myanmar scores at 0.176, Cambodia 0.170, Lao PDR 0.108, the Philippines 0.024, Viet Nam 0.019, and Indonesia 0.014, according to the analysis report. Compared with that of East Asia and the Pacific region, which has a score at 0.023, Thailand’s is also lower, it added.

Thailand’s MPI had improved before COVID-19, UNDP noted. From 2015 to 2016 and 2012, its index was 0.003 and 0.005 respectively. This year’s MPI score is based on the 2019 survey, under which, 176 thousand people moved out of poverty because of better access to basic infrastructures such as sanitation, drinking water, electricity, and housing. Nevertheless, access to education, especially years of schooling, as well as access to nutrition remain major sources of deprivation.  These aspects require particular attention, as the pandemic has hit the most vulnerable population the hardest, UNDP remarked.

“Adopting a multidimensional approach to poverty analysis highlights the importance of looking at poverty beyond income.  Thailand’s incidence of multidimensional poverty is 0.5 percentage points higher than the incidence of monetary poverty, implying that individuals, despite living above the monetary poverty line, may still suffer deprivations in health, education, or standard of living,” the organization said.

The organisation further noted that addressing multidimensional poverty is challenging, as the pathway to ending such poverty is not always linear and the changes in different dimensions vary across periods.

“There is no one-size-fits-all approach,” UNDP noted. “Mixtures of approaches, beyond those for improving income, must be explored and implemented to ensure fair and inclusive development. Further, detailed anti-poverty policies and actionable guides have to be more targeted to address differences in intensity and composition of poverty. This is the time for reshaping policies and rethinking development pathways for a fair, equitable recovery post-Covid-19.”