Media Hype and the Reality of ?New? India

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

In a week when Delhi’s new “world-class” airport opened for business and the Indian Space Research Organisation celebrated the successful launch of five new satellites, we had a stark reminder of another India that, increasingly, many Indians feel embarrassed to talk about. A United Nations-backed study by Oxford University revealed that poverty in at least eight Indian States – Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, West Bengal, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand – was worse than in some of the poorest countries of sub-Saharan Africa.

The findings are based on a global poverty index, the Multidimensional Poverty Index or MPI, developed by Oxford University. It takes into account a range of social factors not hitherto considered while measuring poverty and will replace the Human Poverty Index (HPI) which, until now, has formed the basis for the annual U.N. Human Development Reports.

How’s the new index significantly different from the traditional ways of measuring poverty and how will it make a difference on the ground? Here, Dr. Sabina Alkire, Director of the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI), who has travelled extensively in India, speaks to Hasan Suroor:

Were you surprised by the finding that there are more poor people in eight Indian States than in the 26 poorest African states combined?

No, I wasn’t really surprised, as the scale of Indian poverty is well known within the academic world -whether measured in income terms or multi-dimensionally. But the recent focus on India’s phenomenal growth in the media has given the impression that the largest numbers of very poor people are in Sub-Saharan Africa rather than South Asia (where there are nearly twice as many MPI poor than in Africa). We wanted to test that impression.

To get this comparison, what we did was to set a more extreme poverty cut-off, which identified the Indian States and the African countries whose Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) was equal or greater than 0.32 (the MPIs we calculated for 104 countries range from 0 to .64). Eight Indian States and 26 African countries fall below that cutoff. That’s where this figure comes from.

To give an idea of what this means, the least poor entry is West Bengal (MPI = 0.32), in which 58 per cent of people are MPI poor, and they are on average deprived in 54 per cent of the dimensions or weighted indicators; in Niger 93 per cent of people are MPI poor.

Actually, the intensity of poverty in Africa is still higher – the population-weighted MPI for the 26 African countries is 0.43, whereas for the Indian States it is 0.39.

Source: The Hindu (link opens in a new window)