Nepal, along with Bangladesh, is star performers in a new study by Oxford University of how countries have reduced multidimensional poverty over time, achieving some of the strongest decreases in poverty in both absolute and relative terms.
Using a poverty measure that assesses a range of deprivations in health, education and living standards, researchers found that the percentage of poor people in Nepal dropped from 64.7 per cent to 44.2 per cent between 2006 and 2011; some 4.1 percentage points per year, while in Bangladesh poverty rates decreased by 3.2 percentage points per year between 2004 and 2007.
In addition to reducing the percentage of poor people, both Nepal and Bangladesh reduced the intensity of poverty meaning that even poor people were on average less poor — deprived in fewer things at the same time — than they had been before, an important element of multidimensional poverty analysis that provides a more balanced picture of poor people’s lives.
India also made significant progress between 1999 and 2006, but at a rate that was less than one third of the speed of its poorer neighbours, with a reduction in poverty rates of 1.2 percentage points per year — compared to of 4.1 per cent of Nepal and 3.2 per cent of Bangladesh, the study revealed.
Nonetheless, India reduced multidimensional poverty more than 50 per cent faster than it reduced income poverty in absolute as well as relative terms.
"The success of Nepal and Bangladesh in reducing poverty despite their relatively low income highlights the effectiveness of social policy investments combined with active civil society engagement," said director of the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative — the research centre at Oxford University that conducted the study — Dr Sabina Alkire.
The poverty measure used by Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative, the global Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), is unique in capturing the simultaneous disadvantages experienced by poor people, like malnutrition, education and sanitation, providing a high-resolution lens on their lives. If people are deprived in a third or more of ten weighted indicators they are identified as ‘MPI poor’.
Of 22 countries analysed for changes in MPI poverty over time, Nepal, Rwanda and Bangladesh were found to have made the largest absolute reductions, followed by Ghana, Tanzania, Cambodia and Bolivia.
Most ‘top performing’ countries reduced MPI poverty as fast or faster than income poverty with Nepal in particular making stellar progress in cutting both. The strongest reductions in deprivations in Nepal were made in indicators like assets, electricity and school attendance but all ten indicators saw significant reductions. While the rise in income due to increased rural wages and remittances clearly affected the reduction in asset deprivation, the dramatic increase in access to electricity and schooling was largely the result of NGO and government interventions. Nepal’s baseline data were collected in 2006, the year in which the Comprehensive Peace Accord was signed, ending the country’s decade-long civil war.
India, like Nepal, made significant reductions in all ten poverty indicators. However, multidimensional poverty was reduced least in the poorest states — like Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal — and among the poorest social groups like Scheduled Tribes, Muslims, female-headed households and larger households.
Moreover, even India’s best-performing states — Kerala and Andhra Pradesh — progressed little more than half as fast as Nepal or Bangladesh in reducing multitidimensional poverty. "From 1999-2006, India did very well in certain aspects of poverty reduction like MPI among the scheduled caste groups showed a strong reduction, and poverty among the most destitute went down faster than the average,” said Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative Researcher Dr Suman Seth.
"Unfortunately, India has not collected official data on MPI deprivations including malnutrition since 2005-6, making India’s MPI the least up-to-date in South Asia," the report said, adding that Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative anticipates being able to update the MPIs for Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan again in the coming year, all using 2011 data. The MPI indicators are built from fewer than 40 survey questions, which make up less than seven per cent of the 600-plus questions present in most demographic and health surveys.
“If Nepal and Bangladesh continue reducing poverty at the current rate, they will halve MPI in less than 10 years and eradicate it in 20," said Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative’s Dr José Manuel Roche. "Based on the same assumptions, it will take India 41 years to eradicate acute poverty as measured by the MPI."