Multidimensional poverty reduces worldwide while COVID-19 exposes existing vulnerabilities


Thailand has achieved the lowest multidimensional poverty score in ASEAN

Bangkok, 11 October 2021 – 70 countries revealed significant reduction in multiple dimensions of poverty and Thailand has the lowest multidimensional poverty level in ASEAN, yet existing systemic vulnerabilities are exposed by COVID-19, according to UNDP’s new analysis.

The Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), released by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI), is a measure that looks beyond income to include 10 indicators that capture the education, health, and standard of living dimensions, where a lower score implies a lower poverty ranking.  

The 2021 MPI covers 109 developing countries, which are home to 5.9 billion people. The report shows that 70 countries studied, covering roughly 5 billion people, experienced a statistically significant reduction in their multidimensional poverty levels at least one period during the two decades before the COVID-19.  

According to the report, Thailand’s multidimensional poverty index is 0.002, the lowest among the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries that are included in the study, such as Myanmar (0.176), Cambodia (0.170), Lao People’s Democratic Republic (0.108), Philippines (0.024), Viet Nam (0.019), and Indonesia (0.014). Thailand’s score is also lower than that of the East Asia and the Pacific (0.023) region.
Nevertheless,1.3 billion people—about 92 percent of the population in developing countries—remain multidimensionally poor. 

COVID-19 and multidimensional poverty around the world

While complete data on COVID-19’s impacts on the MPI are not yet available, the pandemic has exposed cracks in social protections systems, education, and workers’ vulnerability around the world. These cracks, the report shows, are deepest in countries with higher levels of multidimensional poverty. 

The severity of the COVID-19 crisis in the world’s poorest countries has been underestimated because limited direct mortality has kept them outside the international spotlight. Analysis shows that people in the poorest countries are being impacted in far reaching ways with consequences that remain to be seen.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has eroded development progress around the world, and we are still grappling to understand its full impacts," says Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator. "This year's Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) reminds us of the need for a complete picture of how people are being affected by poverty, who they are and where they live, if we are to build forward better from this crisis and design effective responses that leave no one behind.”

This year’s report shines light on how poverty is exacerbated by existing inequalities, for example, across ethnic groups and among women.  Analyses of multidimensional poverty and ethnicity are vital. Disparities across ethnic and racial groups should be prioritized by policy makers to achieve fair inclusive development post COVID-19. 

Thailand’s MPI had improved before COVID-19. The current MPI score of 0.002 is based on the 2019 survey, while in 2015/2016 and 2012, the index was 0.003 and 0.005 respectively.  From the latest survey, 176 thousand people moved out of poverty because of better access to basic infrastructure such as sanitation, drinking water, electricity, and housing. Nevertheless, access to education, especially years of schooling, as well as access to nutrition remain major sources of deprivation.  These aspects require particular attention, as the pandemic has hit the most vulnerable population the hardest.

Adopting a multidimensional approach to poverty analysis highlights the importance of looking at poverty beyond income.  Thailand’s incidence of multidimensional poverty is 0.5 percentage points higher than the incidence of monetary poverty, implying that individuals, despite living above the monetary poverty line, may still suffer deprivations in health, education and/or standard of living. 

Addressing multidimensional poverty is challenging, as the pathway to ending such poverty is not always linear and the changes in different dimensions vary across periods. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Mixtures of approaches, beyond those for improving income, must be explored and implemented to ensure fair and inclusive development. Further, detailed antipoverty policies and actionable guide have to be more targeted to address differences in intensity and composition of the poverty. This is the time for reshaping policies and rethinking development pathways for a fair, equitable recovery post COVID-19.  

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