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Poverty is an expensive exercise

OpinionsPoverty is an expensive exercise


Poverty is an expensive exercise, whether economically, socially or politically.  Yet we invest in it at nearly every opportunity and thus reduce the speed of its eradication

For a considerable proportion of the world, the Sustainable Development Goal train has left the station. But with one in every four seats empty. They were there when the train arrived. But they were not in it when it departed.  They were left behind. Not because they were late or not seen. Their only sin was their status relative to others. They were only visible by their poverty.  A whooping 1.3 billion of the population of 105 countries is poor.  They live in deprived conditions with no clean water, sanitation, adequate nutrition, primary education. In short they are multidimensionally poor.  

It is in this regard that the regular income and consumption figures are naked as measures of poverty if not located in the context of these profound dimensions that left one in every four behind when the SDG train took of.

Where are they? Who are they? How poor are they?  

We need to know in case the SDG train finds reason to come back. 

The multidimensionally poor live in all the developing regions of the world, with its face acutely prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia with eight in 10 living in absolute poverty. They account for 82 percent of the burden of poverty. In other words they are home to 1.1bn of the 1.3bn who are multidimensionally poor.  They are found in India, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Pakistan and Bangladesh,. 

Renowned late artist Mahlathini once said in a song that children are the future. Yet they are the ones who bear the brunt of poverty with one in every two of the poor being children or a staggering 668 million.  Two-thirds of children in Sub-Saharan Africa is multidimensionally poor.

The acutely poor are so because they are deprived in at least half of the three scores measuring multidimensional poverty.  They are deprived in health, education and living standards. 

They are a child living in Sub-Saharan Africa.  That is the sad face of those the SDG train left behind.

India gives us hope that it is possible to raise the chances of moving out of multidimensional deprivation, moving more than, 271 million out of poverty between 2005-2015.       

Put differently, imagine an equivalent of the entire population of China or India as poor.  This is a staggering and brain numbing figure.  

More than ever before, multidimensional measurement provides not only the simplified tools of description and observation of poverty, it also presents diagnostic and predictive tools to create an enabling policy and planning towards prosperity.  Anybody left on the platform? No doors closing, let us all get in.

Dr Pali Lehohla is an associate at Oxford and he is the former statistician general of South Africa and former head of statistics South Africa.   Pan African Institute for Evidence (PIE).

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