By Saira Kurup, Times of India
For lessons in poverty alleviation, India should turn to its poorer neighbours. An Oxford University study of 22 countries, released this week, has found Nepal and Bangladesh to be among the top three nations, along with Rwanda, that have reduced poverty in absolute terms.
The study, ‘How multidimensional poverty went down: Dynamics and comparison’ conducted by Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI), says that the two South Asian countries show real progress is possible even if they don’t have durable peace, political stability or even a decent per capita income. The countries were judged on OPHI’s multidimensional poverty index (MPI), having indicators like child mortality, nutrition, number of years of schooling, access to toilets, cooking fuel, water and electricity.
Various forces have fuelled Nepal’s and Bangladesh’s development but two stand out. Sabina Alkire, director of OPHI and lead author of the study, says, “It is well-known that part of Bangladesh’s tremendous progress is due to the role of NGOs, and to women’s empowerment.”
They are the force behind many microcredit, health and education programmes, but Bangladesh’s NGOs also stayed focused on the poor. Political consensus aided them and “they were helped by media advocacy too,” points out Saroj Dash, technical coordinator (climate change), of international NGO Concern Worldwide, Dhaka. He adds, “India has had a longer civil society experience. But the Indian development model has been affected by social exclusion, and new challenges like migration, displacement and climate change are inducing poverty. The development model in Nepal and Bangladesh is more inclusive.”
The Indian civil society has also become exclusive, says Amitabh Kundu, professor of economics and dean of School of Social Sciences at JNU, Delhi. “In the 70s and 80s, it was a pro-poor lobby. But in the last two decades, the middle class has captured the civil society movement.”
Another key problem in India is the neglect of health and education, especially of women, say experts. World Bank figures show that in 18 years (1991-2007), Bangladesh’s female literacy in 15-24 age group jumped from 38% to 77 %. Both Bangladeshis and Nepalis have better life expectancy than Indians, and lower infant mortality. Social policy investments, more jobs, free birth control, better access to health and education, and microcredit have given Bangladeshi women control over fertility and finances.
India, too, needs to prioritise all these indicators and discard its outdated definition of poverty, says Dash. Currently, the government defines the poor as those who spend less than Rs 28 per day in urban areas and Rs 22.50 in rural areas. “Poverty lines reflect a value judgement, and judging a person with Rs 29/day in urban areas, or Rs 23/day in rural areas to be non-poor does not seem to be consistent with even basic standards of living,” says Alkire.
Next Asian tigers?
* Nepal, Bangladesh had the largest absolute reductions in MPI poverty
* Nepal’s progress was fastest — incidence of poverty fell from 65% to 44% in five years (2006-11)
* Between 1999-2006, India reduced poverty at less than one-third of the speed of its poorer neighbours
* At the current rate, Nepal and Bangladesh could eradicate poverty within 20 years, and India in 41 years
Source: Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative study