Multidimensional Poverty Index adopted as a SDG Target Indicator

OPHI Director Sabina Alkire reports on progress made at the Bangkok meeting of the UN’s Inter-Agency and Expert Group on Indicators of the Sustainable Development Goals

The Inter Agency Expert Group on Sustainable Development Goal Indicators met for the second time in Bangkok, 26-28 October 2015. The purpose was to move towards the selection of the indicators that will be used and reported at a global level to track progress towards meeting the global goals. The animated and invigorating exchanges were wonderfully co-chaired by Dr Lisa Bersales (Philippines) and Dr Enrique Ordaz (Mexico).

The meetings were intense, starting at 8am the second two days, and continuing almost non-stop into the evening the first two days.  Concentration was required, because a technically acute and politically defensible decision had to be reached regarding each indicator within a short space of time. By the end of the three days, the IAEG-SDG members had heroically approved 159 indicators that they thought were ready to go (green) and identified an additional 65 indicators that require some more specification or decisions (grey), but would be named as SDG indicators by March. The next stage is for all of this to be drafted and submitted to the United Nations Statistical Commission in March 2016.

The item on the agenda that most related to OPHI’s work were considerations of the indicators to measure the first two poverty targets, 1.1 and 1.2. In the case of Target 1.1, the global measure of extreme poverty (previously $1.25/day and now $1.90/day) will be the indicator, as computed by the World Bank. In the case of Target 1.2 there will be two indicators. One will be the percentage of the population who are identified as poor according to the national poverty measures, which may be income, consumption/ expenditure, and/or multidimensional measures. The second is a Multidimensional Poverty Index, or MPI. The exact specifications of each indicator are to be clarified, but what is clear is that both will appear as indicators for Target 1.2, and both will be used to report progress towards the SDGs.

There is still work to be done. For example, many participants were not yet aware that there are two kinds of Multidimensional Poverty Indices (MPIs). National MPIs are not comparable, but, like national monetary poverty measures, reflect national priorities and are constructed using national datasets. The Global MPI, like the global income poverty measure of $1.90/day, is comparable across countries, and covers a similar number of developing countries as the World Bank’s measure, drawing on national and international datasets. The Global MPI currently is computed by the University of Oxford’s Poverty & Human Development Initiative (OPHI) and the UNDP for the UNDP’s Human Development Report, and both institutions publish national figures, while OPHI publishes the extensive disaggregated data, and hosts an interactive databank so users can create their own maps and infographics.

As participants observed, because national measures are not comparable, it is not very clear that the number of people poor by national definitions should be summed up and halved – perhaps the Global MPI should be used. This is a relevant observation because Target 1.2 calls for halving the proportion of men, women and children who are in multidimensional poverty. In the IAEG-SDG meeting OPHI’s director observed that rates of progress in reducing the percentage of people who are identified as multidimensionally poor by to the Global MPI had been sufficient for countries to meet or surpass that target in Armenia, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Cambodia, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Egypt, Gabon, Ghana, Indonesia, Nepal, Peru, and Rwanda, for example.

What was clearly evident was the range and conviction of country support. Many who articulated support – Cuba, Senegal, Colombia, Mexico, Ecuador, Philippines – are members of a South-South Network the Multidimensional Poverty Peer Network, in which senior policymakers and statisticians support one another in developing National MPIs in order to energise policies to fight poverty, and using the Global MPI to compare progress in reducing acute poverty across the developing world.

So there is still uncertainty about what exactly will be proposed for the comparable MPI indicator by the IAEG – whether it will be the existing Global MPI, perhaps updated to reflect SDG indicators, or something else.

Yet this is a pregnant moment . The adoption of a Multidimensional Poverty Index as an SDG indicator is a significant sea change. We hope that its specification by the IAEG will be wise, and that its inclusion will catalyse accelerated progress to reduce poverty in all its dimensions. As the UN Secretary General said in a message for a Side Event on Multidimensional Poverty at the 2015 UN Summit on the SDGs, citing the number of poor people according to the Global MPI, “Our challenge, at the global, national and local levels, is to reduce these numbers and ensure lives of dignity for all”.