According to a new way of measuring poverty, 66 percent of India’s Dalits are poor – a proportion that is significantly higher than the poverty level of the average population.

The United Nations and Oxford University have joined forces in launching a new poverty measure that adds indicators such as health and education to traditionally used income formulas. The Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) could help target development resources more effectively.

According to the MPI, 645 million people in India, about 55 percent of the population, are poor – almost twice as many as the official poverty figures. In eight Indian states alone there are more ‘multidimensionally’ poor people – about 421 million – than in the 26 poorest sub-Saharan countries in Africa combined.

Poverty levels are highest among India’s tribal population (81.4 percent), followed by Dalits (65.8 percent) and Other Backward Classes (58.3 percent). The poverty level among the rest of the population is 33.3 percent.

According to the Times of India, the “findings would provide further ballast to the argument of some economists that India’s official poverty estimation methods are too narrowly focused to capture the real extent of deprivation in the country.”

The new system has been developed by the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI) for the UN Development Programme (UNDP). It will be used in the 20th anniversary edition of the UNDP Human Development Report, to be released in October this year. The Index was presented earlier this week at a policy forum in London.

“The MPI provides a fuller measure of poverty than the traditional dollar-a-day formulas,” Dr Jeni Klugman, Director of the UNDP Human Development Report Office, said.

The MPI consists of three dimensions – health, education and standard of living. These are measured using ten indicators: child mortality, nutrition, years of schooling, child enrolment, electricity, drinking water, sanitation, flooring, cooking fuel and assets.

The working paper ‘Acute Multidimensional Poverty: A New Index for Developing Countries’ includes data from 104 developing countries with a combined population of 5.2 billion. Particularly detailed results are presented on Kenya, Bolivia and India. In the case of the latter country, poverty levels have been measured according to caste groupings.

Other South Asian countries with large Dalit populations – Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka – are also included in the report. However, the data do not include poverty figures among specific groups, such as Dalits.

Click here to read the OPHI report

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Click here for the UNDP Human Development Report homepage

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