The real numbers: Poverty index is a vital tool to identify issues, Newsline

By Pali Lehohla

JOHANNESBURG – The multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) measures poverty through a lens that identifies it from its concrete manifestations.

The index is an innovation that livened up Amartya Sen’s notion that human lives are battered and diminished in different ways, and the first task is to acknowledge that deprivations have to be accommodated within a general, overarching framework.

Even in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI) has, as it has done in the past years, arranged a programme to raise awareness and to provide hard facts on the measurement of poverty in countries across the world.

Key points raised were on how the participating countries developed their statistical systems and harvested the information to direct policy towards addressing poverty multidimensionally.

The pandemic has broken the solidarity systems across the globe.

Chilean President Sebastian Piñera – who co-hosted the event with Pakistan – pointed out that his country was using the MPI to address the challenges concretely as it is a lens more attuned to achieving policy coherence that addresses strategic challenges for the poor and the middle class.

Piñera said the MPI shaped the destination of those immersed in life projects that had been disrupted and helped them build in a manner that benefited humanity.

President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan said his country was still deling with 40 years of war that had precipitated poverty at the same time as the Covid-19 pandemic. Ghani said Afghanistan launched its MPI in 2019 and has since asked the national statistics office to update it regularly to ground policymaking and monitoring.

He said this would enable the country to align its statebuilding aspiration by listening better and act quicker – the fundamentals of the Afghani Citizens’ Charter.

For Costa Rica, President Juan Orlando Hernández said, the MPI had led to a paradigm shift, not only in how the country saw poverty, but how it addressed it as well. Hernández said the MPI had become a budgeting tool for the country. He said he had seen how the MPI had changed the course and cause of the public purse as it brought together the public sector, the private sector and people’s movement into an effective, organic social compact.

As South Africa seeks the pillars of social compacting, perhaps it is a truism that an apple does not fall far from the tree. Statistics SA monitors poverty trends on a day-to-day basis. It measures poverty multidimensionally.

The statistics agency is the tree from which the apple fell.

Dr Lehohla is the former statistician-general of South Africa.