The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) recently published the 2023 Global Multidimensional Poverty Index, a report on the state of poverty around the world. The report mentions that India has moved 415 million people out of poverty over a decade and a half. This is a spectacular achievement by a young democratic nation.
The report takes a multidimensional approach to poverty. Since national governments use vastly different definitions of poverty, a multidimensional approach is necessary to assess poverty in an accurate and objective way. This captures information that might be obscured or skewed by a one-dimensional analysis, such as an analysis of income. The report takes the following ten dimensions of poverty into account: nutrition, child mortality, years of schooling, school attendance, cooking fuel, sanitation, drinking water, electricity, housing and personal assets.
It is worth noting that, since the UNDP did not collect data from every country in the study at the same time, it is not possible to directly compare countries within a single year. The study is more useful for assessing trends within countries over time. This goes especially for India, for which we have three periods of available data. The report details India from 2005–06, 2015–16 and 2019–21.
India’s impressive poverty reduction
In the period from 2005–06, 55.1% of the Indian population—or some 645 million people—were suffering from multidimensional poverty. A decade later, this figure had dropped to 27.7% percent—370 million people—in 2015–16 after 10 years. In other words, the rate of decrease in the percentage of poverty was 5.4% per year on average.
By the period of 2019–21, the proportion of people suffering from poverty had declined further to only 16.4% of the total population, or 230 million people. In just 5 years, 140 million people moved out of poverty. This means that the pace of poverty reduction had accelerated to a whopping 9.1% per year. Stunningly, India achieved this record in spite of the Covid pandemic. Although full post-Covid data are not available for nearly any countries in the report, more than one year of the worst pandemic in India is included in the period covered.
From 2005–2006 to 2019–2021, India’s multidimensional poverty index (out of a total of 1.000) plummeted from 0.283 down to just 0.069. The report also includes scores for each of the ten dimensions of poverty considered by the study. The proportion of people without adequate sanitation dropped impressively from 50.4% to 11.3%, and the proportion of those without adequate drinking water plummeted from 16.4% down to just 2.7%. Deprivation in terms of school attendance dropped from 19.8% down to only 3.9%. Conditions in India are dramatically improving. Not only the frequency, but the intensity of poverty is substantially lower than it was 15 years ago.
This is good news for India, and the country can justifiably feel proud of its achievement. But it is also an important lesson for the world. India’s efforts to alleviate multidimensional poverty can be a model and inspiration for the world.
Narendra Modi’s Indian model
Narendra Modi’s government has had a special focus on the determinants of multidimensional poverty.
According to UNICEF, the child mortality rate in India has come down to just 30.6 per 1000 live births as of 2021, down from 46.2 in 2014. This is living proof of better health for Indian children. There has also been a huge improvement in nutrition, with deprivation of nutrition coming down from 21.1% in 2015–16 to only 11.8% in 2019–21, according to the UNDP report. To turn to housing, we can note that about 30 million houses, both in urban and rural areas, have been built so far in the last 8 years under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana program thanks to 5 trillion rupees ($60 billion) in assistance from the central government.
Har Ghar Nal Se Jal (“Piped Water to All Homes”), another ambitious scheme of the Modi government, has worked swiftly, cutting the number of those without access to water by more than half from 2015–2016 to 2019–21, according to the report. 110 million latrines and 223,000 restroom complexes have been constructed in the last eight years. Under the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana program, 95.9 million impoverished women have received liquified petroleum gas (LPG) connections. The total number LPG connections has doubled in the last 9 years to 312.6 million.
Various efforts of the government in the context of hunger and nutrition are also bearing fruit. Due to a free grain ration for 800 million people that will continue throughout 2023, all Indians, in principle, will have access to food. Electricity, too, has reached even the remotest villages in the country. According to the UNDP report, indeed, 97.9% of Indians had access to electricity during the 2019–2021 period. That number will continue to get closer and closer to 100%. Already, Modi says, there is not a single village in the country that is without electricity.
This is a lesson for the world. Multidimensional poverty can also be removed if the political will and the necessary effort are there.
[Anton Schauble edited this piece.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.