Friday, January 14, 2022

Planetary Inequality

We live on a planet with greatly increasing disparities.

In October 2021, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) released a report that received barely any attention: the Global Multidimensional Poverty Index 2021, notably subtitled Unmasking disparities by ethnicity, caste, and gender

‘Multidimensional poverty’ is a much more precise measurement of poverty than the international poverty line of $1.90 per day. 

It looks at ten indicators divided along three axes: health (nutrition, child mortality), education (years of schooling, school attendance), and standard of living (cooking fuel, sanitation, drinking water, electricity, housing, assets). 

The team studied multidimensional poverty across 109 countries, looking at the living conditions of 5.9 billion people. They found that 1.3 billion – one in five people – live in multidimensional poverty. The details of their lives are stark:

  1. Roughly 644 million or half of these people are children under the age of 18.
  2. Almost 85 per cent of them reside in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
  3. One billion of them are exposed to solid cooking fuels (which creates respiratory ailments), inadequate sanitation, and substandard housing.
  4. 568 million people lack access to proper drinking water within a 30-minute round trip walk.
  5. 788 million multidimensionally poor people have at least one undernourished person in their home.
  6. Nearly 66 per cent of them live in households where no one has completed at least six years of schooling.
  7. 678 million people have no access to electricity.
  8. 550 million people lack seven of eight assets identified in the study (a radio, television, telephone, computer, animal cart, bicycle, motorcycle, or refrigerator). They also do not own a car.
The absolute numbers in the UNDP report are consistently lower than figures calculated by other researchers. Take their number of those with no access to electricity (678 million), for example. World Bank data shows that in 2019, 90 per cent of the world’s population had access to electricity, which means that 1.2 billion people had none. An important study from 2020 demonstrates that 3.5 billion people lack ‘reasonably reliable access’ to electricity. 

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