17 July 2017

Africa: Half the World's Poor are Children

Photo: PHOTOESSAY: Poverty Levels in Selected African Nations

A new survey mapping poverty across Africa shows how the people of northern Nigeria suffer worse levels of deprivation on average than those in the south. In one of the poorest states, Zamfara, three in four people are destitute, compared to one in three on average nationally, the study says. Poverty is lowest in Lagos, indicated by the darker green colouring. (Data and maps: Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative, 2017.)

press release

New Oxford University research on global poverty exposes disturbing extent of the challenges facing UN's new Sustainable Development Goals over the eradication of child poverty.

Across the 103 low and middle income countries surveyed, children are found to constitute 34% of the total population – but 48% of the poor, based on a measure that assesses a range of deprivations in health, education and living standards.

According to the Oxford Poverty & Human Development Initiative (OPHI), nearly two out of every five children – 37%, forming a total of 689 million children – are multidimensionally poor. Some 87% of these 689 million poor children are growing up in South Asia and in Sub-Saharan Africa – 300 million in each region. Half of South Asia's children and two thirds of Sub-Saharan children are multidimensionally poor. These numbers are truly staggering.

The child poverty report finds that half of multidimensionally poor children live in 'alert' level fragile states, and child poverty levels are highest in the fragile states.

The report disaggregates the latest figures for the Global Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) by age group to analyse the particular situation of 1.8 billion children who live in 103 countries. The international definition of a child, used here, is anyone less than 18 years of age.

Global MPI estimates are higher for children than for adults in all 103 countries. Children are also deprived in more indicators at the same time. In 36 countries, including India, at least half of all children are MPI poor. In Ethiopia, Niger and South Sudan over 90% of all children are MPI poor.

Sabina Alkire, director of OPHI at the University of Oxford, says: "These new results are deeply disturbing as they show that children are disproportionately poor when the different dimensions of poverty are measured. This is a wake-up call to the international community which has adopted the global Sustainable Development Goals and takes seriously Goal 1, the eradication of poverty in all its forms and dimensions. Children are our future workers, parents and citizen/voters. Investing in them brings benefits now and also into the future."

The new Global Multidimensional Poverty Index Report 2017 is published today (1 June) at a special event in the Oxford Department of International Development to mark the 10th anniversary of the OPHI research centre.

At the event, UNICEF's Martin Evans will present the joint UNICEF-World Bank disaggregation of $1.90/day extreme income poverty by children and comment on the OPHI study. Both major global poverty measures find disproportionate levels of child poverty, underscoring the importance of disaggregation – and action – on child poverty. Jo Boyden, director of the influential Young Lives study in Oxford, will contextualise the findings based on the study's in-depth quantitative and qualitative analyses of poor children in four countries across a 15 year period. Combined with the MPI which opens a window onto children's lives in 103 countries, she will address the question: how can intensive and long-term studies of poor children deepen the story of multidimensional poverty?

The new report investigates poverty across 5.4 billion people. Of these, 1.45 billion people are MPI poor, some 26.5% of the people living in 103 countries. Some 48% of these poor people live in South Asia, and 36% in Sub-Saharan Africa. Over one billion MPI poor people live in middle income countries.

Fulfilling the SDG's aim to end poverty in all its forms and dimensions, the Global MPI complements measures based on income and directly measures 10 indicators reflecting poor health, a lack of education and low living standards. In 2017, MPI estimations for Algeria and El Salvador were added, and MPI statistics were updated for 23 other countries including China, India, Mexico, and South Africa.

Turning to the poorest of the poor, OPHI found that nearly half of all MPI poor people are destitute - 706 million - so experience extreme deprivations such as severe malnutrition. Destitution rates are the highest in Sub-Saharan Africa, where in six countries and 117 subnational regions, more than half of citizens live in destitution.  But India alone is home to more destitute people than Sub-Saharan Africa (295 million vs 282 million), and Pakistan is home to more destitute people (37 million) than either East Asia and Pacific (26 million) or the Arab States (26 million).

The global MPI can also be disaggregated by disability status. In Uganda, 22% of people live in a household where one member experiences severe disability, and MPI in these households is higher (76% vs 69%). As disability data improve, disability disaggregation for the global MPI will become standard.

Disaggregated analysis of the MPI is also available for 988 subnational regions. The poorest regions in the world are in Chad, Burkina Faso, Niger, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Nigeria, Uganda, and Afghanistan. Inside Afghanistan poverty rates vary from 25% in Kabul to 95% in Urozgan. Within Myanmar, where 30% of people are poor on average, poverty rates rise to 51% in Rakhine State.   And in two of Chad's regions Lac and Wadi Fira, 98-99% of people are poor. But how people are poor, differs. In Lac, 34% of people are poor and have experienced a child death, in Wadi Fira it's 20%. But in Wadi Fira, 97% of people lack clean drinking water, whereas in Lac it's 64%. So even between two extremely poor regions, policy responses need to differ.

The global MPI provides a headline figure showcasing poverty in all its forms and dimensions. Yet it is also broken down to show in detail the steps needed to change the poverty story – particularly and urgently for the rising generation of younger people.


Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI)

OPHI is a research centre within the Oxford Department of International Development at the University of Oxford. OPHI is led by Sabina Alkire and works to develop and apply new ways of measuring and analysing poverty, human development and welfare, drawing on the work of Nobel Laureate economist Amartya Sen. For more information about OPHI, please visit www.ophi.org.uk

The Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI)

The MPI was created by OPHI Director Sabina Alkire and OPHI Research Associate Maria Emma Santos (now also at Universidad Nacional del Sur and the Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas (National Scientific and Technical Research Council), Argentina) in collaboration with the UNDP's Human Development Report Office, which also publishes the results. It is constructed using a methodology developed by Alkire and James Foster, an OPHI Research Associate and Professor of Economics and International Affairs at George Washington University. That methodology is also used to construct several national measures of poverty (for example in Mexico, Colombia, Bhutan, Chile, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Mozambique, and Pakistan).  

For more information on the MPI, including infographics, briefings, data and other resources, please see www.ophi.org.uk/multidimensional-poverty-index

Visit OPHI's online interactive databank for maps and graphs showing the level and composition of multidimensional poverty across countries and sub-national regions: http://www.ophi.org.uk/multidimensional-poverty-index/mpi-data-bank/

Calculation of poverty using the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI)

A person is identified as 'multidimensionally poor' if she or he is deprived in one-third or more of ten (weighted) indicators. The MPI of a country or region is calculated by multiplying the proportion of poor people (H) by the average share of deprivations that poor people face at the same time, i.e. the average intensity of their poverty (A). In other words, MPI=HxA. By directly measuring the different types of poverty in each household, the MPI captures how people experience different deprivations simultaneously. See Alkire, S, Robles, G. (2017). "Multidimensional Poverty Index - Summer 2017: Methodological Note." MPI Note 44. University of Oxford, June 2017.

Data sources and constraints

The MPI relies on the most recent data available, mainly from two datasets that are publicly available and comparable for most developing countries: USAID's Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) and UNICEF's Multiple Indicators Cluster Survey (MICS). It also uses national and PAPFAM and national surveys.


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