Targeting the poorReasons for poverty differ across provinces and require distinct intervention efforts
A National Planning Comission report this week revealed that 29 percent of Nepal’s population is ‘multidimensionally’ poor. This poverty headcount signals a departure from former, one-dimensional measurements of poverty countrywide.
The definition of poverty has undergone considerable transformations. A minimum subsistence was the dominant interpretation of poverty from the beginning of the 20th century until the 1970s. However, this understanding later evolved and poverty came to be conceptualised as relative—in other words, as inadequate resources to maintain an acceptable way of living in the society in question. This fuelled a dollar-a-day measurement of poverty. But as Nobel laureate Amartya Sen has pointed out, this measurement hardly takes into account many variations that influence the conversion of income into good living. What would capture poverty appropriately, according to Sen, is a multidimensional measure.
It is this multidimensional approach to poverty that has recently attracted global acclaim. And it seems that Nepal too is finally jumping on the global bandwagon.
Traditionally in Nepal, an income threshold of Rs19,262 per person per year has been used to gauge poverty. This threshold was set on the assumption that a person who is able to earn Rs19,262 per year is non-poor, because the amount is considered adequate to meet basic caloric needs and purchase essential non-food items. But now, a new poverty headcount using the Nepal Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) has been released.
Introduced in 2010, the MPI has been lauded as a method of measuring poverty, and is embedded in the United Nations-backed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The MPI takes into account the multidimensional facets of poverty. Ten indicators—nutrition, child mortality, years of schooling, school attendance, cooking fuel, improved sanitation, improved drinking water, electricity, flooring and roofing, and asset ownership—have been used to measure poverty. If a person is deprived in at least a third of 10 weighted indicators, they are considered to be poor.
In Nepal, this measurement of poverty has brought some interesting, area specific patterns to light. The main reasons for poverty seem to differ across provinces. Take for example the findings from Provinces 2 and 6, which were those provinces with the highest numbers of poor. In Province 2, which was found to have 2.5 million multidimensionally poor people, the main reason for poverty was a lack of education. In Province 6, which was found to have around 600,000 multidimensionally poor people, the main reason was health. So, specific weaknesses in certain areas have been identified and assessed. This assessment will allow for the formulation of targeted policies, approaches and programmes to reduce poverty in different provinces.
According to the report, the incidence of poverty has reduced by more than half since 2006, when the poverty headcount rate stood at 59.35 percent as compared to the current 29 percent. Nepal is definitely on the right path to achieving rapid reduction of poverty. Combating poverty with greater determination should be a national priority.