The Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) uses 10 indicators, taking into account factors such as access to water, primary schooling, healthcare and electricity. Adopted in 2010 by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the index provides a more accurate assessment about levels of poverty than a simple measure of income. This is because even when incomes rise, families are not necessarily able to afford a better standard of living.
Under the old system of measuring income alone, according to the World Bank 16 per cent of Columbia’s population were classified as ‘extremely poor’ in 2000-2008 i.e. those living on less than a dollar each day. (In 2008, the default line for extreme poverty was raised to 1.25 dollars each day.)
With the new MPI measure, poverty levels are put at 35 per cent of the Columbian population. The government has said it will now set targets on poverty reduction against the new measurement.
And at the same time, the government’s new poverty reduction plan promises to tackle the country’s inequality. Based on the Gini measure, which rates the disparity of income within a population, Colombia rates very badly. With a 2009 Gini score of 58.5 for distribution of family income (where 100 represents total inequality and 0 perfect equality), Colombia has one of the most unequal societies in the world. Large gaps between the rich and poor are seen as key causes of violence and unrest in societies.
Development experts are pleased to see countries such as Colombia and Mexico begin to use the MPI. They believe the index helps governments focus resources better and make more informed decisions about how to tackle the needs of poor people. For example, when the MPI methodology was first applied to Colombia, the research clearly showed the country’s poorest people had little schooling and around 70 per cent had no health cover. In a speech to mark the introduction of the MPI in Colombia, Alertnet reported President Juan Manuel Santos as praising the “more exact tools” which were now at his government’s disposal in fighting poverty. And Mr Santos spoke of using the new measures to make sure Colombia did not continue to hold “the shameful title of being one of the countries with the highest rates of poverty and inequality...in the whole world”.