In a "historic change", India lifted over 415 million (41.5 crore) people from multidimensional poverty in a 15-year period, the United Nations (UN) has said. The incidence of poverty in India fell from 55.1% in 2005-06 to 16.4% in 2019-21, shows the latest Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) compiled jointly by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI).

The reduction in MPI value in India was swift across the two most recent periods. "Of the nearly 415 million people who exited poverty in the 15 years prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, roughly 275 million did so between FY06 and FY16, 140 million did so between FY16 and FY21. Deprivations in all 10 MPI indicators saw statistically significant reductions in both periods," says the report, adding the incidence of poverty were both more than halved.

The UN report titled 'Unpacking deprivation bundles to reduce multidimensional poverty' says Bihar, the poorest state in FY16, saw the fastest reduction in MPI value in absolute terms. The incidence of poverty there fell from 77.4% in FY06 to 52.4% in FY16 to 34.7% in FY21.

The UN says India's progress on this front shows ambitious targets can be achieved on a global scale. "Sustainable development goal target 1.2 is to reduce at least by half the proportion of men, women and children of all ages living in poverty in all its dimensions according to national definitions by 2030, and India’s progress shows that this goal is feasible, even at a large scale," says the UN report.

India was also one of the worst-hit countries when it comes to Covid-19. The UN report says the total effect of Covid on the country can't be assessed. "The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on poverty in India can't be fully assessed because 71% of the data from the 2019/2021 Demographic and Health Survey for India were collected before the pandemic."

However, the results are striking, says the UN, adding that there's a significant reduction in all 10 MPI deprivations among poor people in India.

Major challenges remain

Despite progress, rural areas of India still have a long way to go. The ongoing task of ending poverty for the 228.9 million poor people in 2019/2021 is daunting. Rural areas account for nearly 90% of poor people – 205 million of the nearly 229 million poor people live in rural areas. Among them, deprivations in cooking fuel and housing are the most common, followed by nutrition and sanitation.

Children are still the poorest age group here, and more than one in five children are poor (21.8%) compared with around one in seven adults (13.9%). This translates to 97 million poor children, says the UN, adding that it’s more than the total number of poor people, children and adults combined, in any other country covered by the global MPI.

Not only this, India is the only country in South Asia, in which poverty is significantly more prevalent among female-headed households than among male-headed households. About 19.7% of people living in female-headed households live in poverty compared with 15.9% in male-headed households. In India, about 39 million poor people live in a household headed by a woman.

The 2019/2021 data show that about 16.4% of India’s population live in poverty, with an average intensity of 42%. About 4.2% of the population live in severe poverty. About 18.7%, roughly the same proportion as in 2015/2016, are vulnerable to poverty because their deprivation score ranges from 20% to 33%.

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