Highlights on Multidimensional Poverty in the presentations and general debates

Summary of High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (July 10th – 19th)

  • 2nd Meeting – Anthony Lake, Executive Director of UNICEF (10th July)
  • 2nd Meeting – Sabina Alkire, OPHI Director (10th July)
  • 3rd Meeting – Various Speakers (11th July)
  • 9th Meeting – Chile (14th July)
  • Opening of High-level Segment – Pakistan (17th July)
  • 15th Meeting – Panama (18th July)


2nd Meeting

Anthony Lake, Executive Director of UNICEF

Poverty is disproportionately about children. They comprise nearly a third of the world’s population, but half of all of the multidimensionally poor people. And it is obvious but too little recognised that we cannot defeat poverty in the next generation without giving today’s children a fair chance in life. About 689 million children face one or more deprivations: lack of education, poor access to health or nutrition, inadequate housing, water, or sanitation, infrastructure, unable to withstand repeated shocks of natural disasters or sustained conflicts. Just as each right denied or combination of rights denied, is an individual tragedy for each child affected, it is also a tragedy for that child’s family, her community, the future of her society, and indeed for our common future.

By themselves, monetary-based poverty measures so often miss the struggle of those children who might enjoy relatively high living standard but are failing to gain quality education, or being denied healthcare, nutrition, or water, or being abused. Much in the same way that measuring our progress towards the Millennium Development Goals by using national averages obscures the lives of millions who were left behind in the march of progress in every society. As the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative reminds us in its shocking new report, “over two thirds of poor children live in middle-income countries”. A reminder of why the Convention of the Rights of Child and UNICEF’s mandate, cover all children everywhere.

Countries are increasingly working with NGOs, UN agencies and the World Bank to establish and use multidimensional measures of poverty. We heard about Columbia’s great progress in this. For other examples, Bhutan’s National Statistics Office, supported by UNICEF, found that 34% of children suffered from multiple deprivations, notably from a lack of investment in cognitive development, as well as from malnutrition and child labour. Tanzania, examined the youngest children of up to the age of 23 months, and found that 88% of them suffered from two or more deprivations. 88%. From inadequate housing and nutrition to poor health and child protection services, to a lack of safe water and sanitation. Or the work of partners like the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative whose new reports shines a disturbing but necessary light on the multiple challenges that so many children face.


Sabina Alkire, OPHI Director

In a book called “Numbers that move the world,” Miguel Szekely observed that at points, numbers can motivate action. They can mobilise reluctance. They can ignite policies, generate discussion, and even in some points end a pressing problem.

What I’d like to do is to think about the kinds of numbers we’d need, to push the agenda on poverty in the SDGs. We are here this week to talk about different policies that as Elixia Bartonize said, address the inter-institutional, intersectorial and interconnected aspects of poverty effectively and so no one is left behind. And yet our instruments of measurement for doing so are multiple, and so the question is how do these measures inform action. And the answer is evident, it’s governance. They must analyse this new evidence base, and mobilise it into action. But that’s quite a bit of work. What I’d like to do is introduce Multidimensional Poverty Indices, or MPI, which takes a set of poverty related indicators from different SDGs that vary by country, and link them together, at the individual level and as a statistic that gives one headline figure, but then can be unpacked to inform policy. So the MPI can be used and is being used by many countries, and I hope we will hear from you also in the discussion as a management tool.

The motivation for having better measures of course came from the SDG discussions including the Secretary General’s observation that poverty measures should reflect poverty’s multidimensional nature. And also the World Bank’s commission on measuring global poverty led by our late and beloved Sir Tony Atkinson, which recommended that global poverty be monitored not only by $1.90 a day, but also by a multiple poverty index encompassing health nutrition education work living standards and violence.

So what is an MPI, a methodology I’d the privilege to develop with James Foster. First you define the indicators that create poverty in your context. Second you go door to door, and see which of those deprivations each hh experiences at the same time, how they are connected at the person level…Third you create a deprivation score for each person, and if they’re deprived in a critical mass, they are poor. Using this information you create a MPI.

But what you do need to know is that many governments have taken that step. They’ve built national MPIs that like Mexico reflect their law; like Colombia their constitution and national plan; like El Salvador, their participatory work in voices of the poor.

You can also create comparable measures, like SEPAL’s measure for Latin America, or the Global MPI published by UNDP, which can be used to compare across countries and to track global priorities like cutting by one half MPI.

What I’d like to bring your attention is how governments are using MPI for policy. I want to introduce to you first to a movement you may not know that since even September 2015 many countries have launched their first official MPI, and the voluntary reviews you’ll hear over the next week also contain mentions to the ongoing developments of MPIs. There’s a network with 53 participating countries and 12 international agencies, which is a south-south space to share imagination, creativity, passion and pain, and try to use measures to ignite action.

So what are these governments doing? And I as an academic learned from them? First they compliment monetary poverty. When Chile launched its official MPI, that was the headline, that now we have two measures like we have 2 eyes, and together they show poverty with greater precision.

They also want to of course reduce poverty overtime, and the MPI shows whether that has happened, and also how it has happened, indicator by indicator, so you see what drives change. And when governments like Ecuador, Colombia, Panama updates their MPI every year, this becomes a management tool that monitors what is lagging.

Now to accelerate poverty [reduction] you need to increase the resources. Costa Rica found that there were some indicators for which there is no budgetary allocation. It fixed that, and later President Solis issued a Presidential Decree by which the MPI and other income poverty measures must be part of budget allocation.

And of course many social policies are universal but some do target. And there are many uses of the MPI for this. An inspiring one we visited in May was China’s Accurate Targeting Poverty Reduction Programme, which used a multiple set of indicators to target over 50 million people who will come out of poverty by 2020.

There’s also policy coordination which Colombia will show. And I’d also mention the inclusive cabinet of Mexico which goes across the 7 indicators and shows the different parts of governments that are included in it.

And finally every country uses MPI that leaves no one behind. Panama launched it 2 weeks ago, with poverty rates from 4 to over 90%. In Pakistan the poorest district reduces poverty the fastest. Across Europe women were poorer than men, and when we decompose the global MPI covering 103 countries, we found that of all people that were acutely poor, ½ of them were children.

So the MPI is not a silver bullet. There is no silver bullet for ending poverty. But numbers can move the world. And governments who are committed and passionate have found multidimensional poverty indices to be more than statistics, to be tools for governance and accountability. Not only them, but NGOs, businesses and other actors. And our hope, is that in learning with you and in dialogue with you, this movement can go forward.

More info on this debate here.



3rd Meeting. High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development  – Economic and Social Council

Various Speakers:

Janet Gornick, Professor of Political Science and Director, Stone Centre on Social Economic Inequality, CUNY

“Let me make a plea for more investment and capacity building and micro-data. In particular, the SDGs call for disaggregation. We need micro-data. We also need surveys and datasets that combine multiple measures – income, consumption, assets, health, wellbeing. We need a lot of investments. We need much more international norm setting in terms of releasing data for research and analysis. And we need complimentary institutional data.”



“We’re pleased to report Indonesia’s substantial poverty reduction and improvement in living standard over the last decade. Close to 20 percentage point reduction since 2006. However, beyond monetary poverty, harder work is needed to mitigate high incidents of vulnerability and stunting, and expand access to quality education, healthcare, proper living condition and financial services.”



“Despite these [climate] concerns, we are committed to moving forward. We encourage policymakers to continue taking a multidimensional approach to addressing poverty and inequality that includes a full understanding of the 2030 agenda.”



Children & Youth Platform

“In line with the mandate of the HLPF, we would like to expand the conversation to emerging issues and barriers pertaining to Goal 1. Firstly, increasing but not an evidence-based focus on austerity is having significant adverse effects on multidimensional poverty, and reversing previously positive trends. We urge all governments to discuss this issue and abandon austerity programmes.”


Asian Farmer’s Association

“The problems of hunger and malnutrition and unsustainable agriculture is complex and multidimensional. Thus, eradicating hunger, poverty and malnutrition go hand in hand. These problems need a transformation where sustainable agricultural means a holistic approach to development that is socially just, environmentally sound and economically viable for the millions of the poor and hungry farmers.”


South Africa

“It [malnutrition] is particularly devastating on children. Through improved composite indicators – including those from the SDGs – measuring multidimensional poverty, in South Africa we now know that 45% of the deaths of children under 3 are related to malnutrition.”



World Bank Group

We need to work together and we need to work together in different ways. And if we are all measuring our progress towards achieving those objectives with our own different metrics, we’re not going to know that we’re actually getting there. So we need to have that common set of indicators that we’ve actually agreed in the context of SDGs. Let’s use that common framework. Not just at the national but also at the subnational level. So go subnational as well.


United States

Investing in agriculture is one of the most effective way to reduce hunger and poverty, and to generate the type of growth that have real impact on livelihoods, economy and security. However we need agreement on how to measure improvements in sustainable agricultural production that recognises a range of economic, social and environmental contexts. We know that several indicators associated with Target 2.4 on productive and sustainable agriculture are still under development and discussion.



9th Meeting


Chile has the major challenge of achieving economic and social development while reducing inequality and tackling climate change, and at the same time it must strengthen its democratic institutions. An instrument that can support this is the Multidimensional Poverty Index, which we dealt with in detail on Monday. This MPI clearly demonstrates how education, health, work and social security are all inextricably linked. Of course all of these is linked to housing and habitat. And all of these interlinkages need to be born in mind when we tackle poverty and inequality, because all of these factors are the root causes of poverty. Thank you.



Opening of High Level Segment

Nabeel Munir, Vice President of the Council and Deputy Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the UN.

First I will refer to the addressing multidimensions of poverty and inequalities. Poverty is not defined by monetary income alone. The many dimensions of poverty and deprivation must be considered and addressed in order to eradicate poverty worldwide. The MDG era saw significant progress in addressing poverty in the developing world, but the progress was uneven, allowing high levels of inequality to persist, and leaving many populations and communities behind. Deprivations in the areas of healthcare, education, economic opportunity, gender empowerment, housing and natural resource management, among others, can have a direct correlation with poverty. The Multidimensional Poverty Index, the MPI, developed by the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative, was presented as a tool that many countries are using to analyse their poverty situation, complementing traditional income based measures. Good governance is needed to assess the information coming from the MPIs and other sources, and to take action. Social inclusion and engagement of all stakeholders is an important precondition to poverty eradication. National ownership and leadership is essential for effective policies and strategies to address poverty. Children suffer disproportionally from poverty, particularly in terms of the severity of how they experience poverty. High quality, disaggregated data is central to any successful effort to eradicate poverty. Multidimensional poverty is influenced by a number of interlocking negative trends, such as climate change, destruction of natural resources which cause pollution, and other natural stressors that can undermine poverty efforts. We need to promote quality employment and a living wage as well as entrepreneurship to help people help themselves.



15th Meeting

Voluntary National Review:  Maria Luisa Navarro, Deputy Minister for Multilateral Affairs and Cooperation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Panama

Video on MPI Panama entitled: Building an MPI in Panama

One of the most important aspect that I wish to highlight in this Voluntary Review is the sustained reduction of poverty. This is a result of our economic growth and the strengthening of our social protection system. Between 2013 and 2016, the general poverty index and extreme poverty at the national level dropped from 26.2% to 22.1% and 11.1% to 9.9% respectively. And let me point out that for the first time, the level of extreme poverty were under 10%. However, when we looked at this information, we saw that there were gaps between the urban and rural areas, and also between the indigenous populations and other areas. Considering that if we are to eradicate poverty in all its forms and dimensions, we must have a tool that helps us to measure that poverty, not only based on income. The national government of the Republic of Panama undertook the commitment here two years ago to adopt the MPI, the Multidimensional Poverty Index. On the 26th of June, Panama published its first version of the MPI, this means that 19.1% of Panamanians are multidimensionally poor, which is 12.2% of our households. We have specific programmes to ensure that we can reduce poverty in a targeted way, and here I’d like to highlight the programme for monetary transfer, on the indigenous such as Zero Poverty, and these are geared towards reducing development gaps across our territory.

In conclusion, Mr. President, if we are to achieve the 2030 agenda, we must do so and look at it as a historic opportunity to pull efforts to improve the lives of the persons and to tackle the emerging challenges in this globalised world. We recognise that if we are to achieve the targets and goals of the 2030 Agenda, we must strengthen the inter-institutional coordination, especially with non-government actors. We must bolster the multidimensional approach in formulating and targeting our public policies. We must strengthen the national statistic system when it comes to producing and transmitting data for our monitoring SDGs. We must strengthen non-governmental participation and participation of the private sector and other groups. With this Voluntary Review, Panama reaffirms its commitment to the SDGs and protecting its citizens’ human rights. Likewise, we declare our intention to continue to work towards achieving these SDGs, which will not only benefit each individual in Panama, but will also enhance international and intra-national cooperation.