We can make progress on global poverty – despite Covid

We have become accustomed to reiterating the damage to our lives caused by the Covid-19 pandemic-such as reduced movement, disruption of normal social relations, domestic violence, economic stress, mental health problems, and increasing poverty and inequality.

our simulationA study conducted a year ago found that between 131 million and 547 million people in the world may have joined the ranks of the “new poor”, which may set back years of progress. When we look to the future, if the topic of poverty comes up, we might as well look away.

But what if this is not the case? What if the global UK’s strategic actions promoted this development trajectory?

The United Kingdom led the international response in December 2013, when Ebola attacks Sierra Leone — Work with partners to quickly end the epidemic, while training medical staff and supporting early recovery in health, education, and social protection. The worst was avoided, and in March 2016, Sierra Leone was declared Ebola-free.


According to the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative’s simulation, people are “recently impoverished” due to the pandemic

The impact of the Ebola response on poverty was subsequently revealed in 2020, when our team’s research (funded by the then Department of International Development in the United Kingdom) showed the trend of multidimensional poverty reduction. We found that during the Ebola pandemic and response period, Sierra Leone’s multidimensional poverty rate dropped from 74% to 58%—the fastest decline of any country. Between 2013 and 2017, the terrible burden of poverty did not increase; it fell and dropped sharply.

Recently, worldwide 2020 Multidimensional Poverty Index Report It shows that 65 of the 75 countries studied (accounting for 5 billion people) had significantly reduced severe multidimensional poverty before the Covid pandemic. This is defined as families suffering multiple deprivations, such as undernutrition, child deaths, lack of education, inadequate sanitation facilities, unsafe water, no electricity, and shaky housing.

A medical worker feeds a child diagnosed with Ebola in Kailahun, Sierra Leone © Carl de Souza/AFP via Getty Images

So even if we are close to 18 months of the current Covid-19 pandemic, and supporting poverty reduction on a similar scale to Sierra Leone may seem daunting, it is still possible.

As the pandemic spreads and evolves, one country after another has turned to investing in social protection, health systems, job creation, and economic stimulus measures to better rebuild. This year, the UK also made major voices at the G7, G20, COP26, Global Education, and Food Systems and Nutrition for Growth Summits.

What if it uses this voice to consolidate a new paradigm based on cutting-edge research and data, and create a new legacy of dexterity, humility and low-key cooperation?

based on Global Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI)-established with the support of the United Kingdom and covering 5.9 billion people-has clear points of action that may make this year a turning point in ending all forms of severe poverty:

  1. Put the voice and energy of the UK behind a comprehensive rather than fragmented agenda. The most cost-effective response to multidimensional poverty is cross-sectoral, not isolated. If the UK uses all its experience in 2021 to advocate a joint, high-impact strategy to address what Indian economist Amartya Sen calls the disadvantages of “hit and weaken” the lives of the poor , What will happen then? Instead of developing an independent education, food, or nutrition strategy, develop a set of core goals that are frugal, consistent, and regularly measured? Based on the poverty line measurement standard of US$1.90 per day and the global multidimensional poverty index, the poverty reduction goal is outstanding? Before the pandemic, 47 countries are expected to reduce multidimensional poverty by half or more between 2015 and 2030—it can be done.

  2. Focus on childrenAccording to the global MPI, 1.3 billion people are in a state of multidimensional poverty. Half of them are children under 18 years of age. In more than 100 countries in developing regions, one-third of children are in a state of multidimensional poverty, while one-sixth of adults are. Using global MPI data, we can determine the gender of these children. We know their poverty composition, their family size, and whether all children of their age are deprived of their rights. This evidence can inform high-impact strategies.

  3. Meet the protagonistIf the remedy of the poverty problem “depends on” the government, then it seems daunting. But, as Sen reminds us, the poor are not passive victims of cunning development strategies. On the contrary, participatory research consulting those who have escaped poverty found that in more than three-quarters of the cases, they cited their initiative as the most important driver of change. The steely determination, creativity and insight of the protagonist of poverty-the poor and their communities-has changed the nature of the task.

  4. Back to South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. More than 84% of the multidimensional poor live in South Asia (530 million) and sub-Saharan Africa (558 million). In recent times, the rate of MPI decline in South Asian countries has also been the fastest among all regions. In the ten years ending 2015/16, 270 million people in India have been lifted out of multidimensional poverty. In Bangladesh, it reached 19 million in just five years in 2014-19. It is important to praise and continue these trajectories.

We have data and we know the strategic framework to achieve the global poverty reduction goal. This strategy requires international cooperation, shared commitment and global leadership. The pandemic does not need to reverse the tremendous progress made in poverty eradication in recent decades. Rather, it may be a driving force, a wake-up call, and the basis for a new determination to build a better world for today’s children and tomorrow’s generations. The 2021 summit and the key role of the UK in the world provide a platform to seize this opportunity as a core part of the global UK vision.

Sabina Alkiel

Sabina Alkire leads the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Program of the Department of International Development, University of Oxford

Read her full text on the UNICEF website, Here

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