Nigerians were collectively triggered by a United Nations Development Program (UNDP) report that 98 million of us are living in multidimensional poverty.
The number was not alarming—after all, Nigeria is barely a year into its reign as the poverty capital of the world, but the reference to multidimensional poverty sparked fright. Had Nigeria cracked a new layer of poverty?
Understanding multidimensional poverty
For a long time, poverty was defined in monetary terms: people were considered poor if they lived on less than a specific (dollar) amount a day. But while income and wealth are pretty good indicators of welfare, it has become apparent that we miss out a lot of relevant features of human welfare if we only focus on how much money someone has.
For instance, a household could be living on more than a dollar a day but still be unable to meet primary healthcare or sanitation needs. These and other factors are not adequately captured by the monetary-based measures of poverty, even though they are also important indicators of human welfare. Thus, the methods now collectively referred to as the non-monetary measurements of poverty were developed to assess the indicators that would otherwise be overlooked by the monetary-based methods.
The UNDP developed a non-monetary measure of poverty called the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) in collaboration with the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI). The MPI assesses ten indicators across three main dimensions: health, education, and standard of living. Based on the MPI, individuals who are deprived in at least one-third of the weighted indicators are judged to be living in multidimensional poverty.
What does this mean for Nigeria?
This means that poverty goes beyond not having money. Nigeria’s problem is that millions of Nigerians do not have access to the most basic of resources and economic goods, from food to shelter to medical services. For example, Nigeria has one of the highest maternal and child mortality rates in the world—the latter is included in the MPI.
Another measure of poverty included in the MPI is school attendance, i.e. the number of school-aged children not in school. In 2018, Nigeria was reported to have over 13 million children out of school, which shows the extent of the country’s educational depravity.
Meanwhile, on the stand of living dimension, indicators such as electricity, housing, and sanitation have significantly influenced the extent of Nigeria's multidimensional poverty. About 20 million households have no access to power, and up to 24 million people are reported to be homeless in Nigeria. Finally, barely over a quarter of the population has access to clean drinking water, almost the same proportion that reportedly defecate in the open.
Once these statistics are considered, it is less surprising that Nigeria has so many people considered multidimensionally poor. These realities are correlated but do not end with not having enough money.
The multidimensional approach to poverty also helps us evaluate assertions like “5 million Nigerians have been lifted out of extreme poverty in three years”. Wherever you may stand on the credibility of the claim, the multidimensional approach is a reminder not to get too swayed by a simple income assessment. Some may be earning marginally more than a dollar a day but remain poor in every meaningful sense.
Extreme poverty vs multidimensional poverty
It is important to note that the World Bank reports that multidimensional poverty is generally one and a half times higher than monetary poverty. While not exactly true in Nigeria, we see a similar trend. Nigeria had 87 million people categorised as extremely poor; however, this year’s UNDP data estimates 98 million Nigerians are living in multidimensional poverty. This is understandable as the multidimensional approach takes a broader view of poverty, so is likely to include those not considered financially poor.
As a broader measure of welfare, the multidimensional approach gives us a clearer view of how poverty affects the lives of Nigerians. Indeed it shows that beyond having little or no income, Nigerians are also poor because they are unable to access basic social amenities; whether it is proper maternal and new-born care, functional educational institutions with trained teachers, proper housing, or clean drinking water.
The implication this has for Nigerian policymakers is the obvious need to expand the scope of poverty alleviation beyond empowering people with handouts. There is a need to augment whatever efforts are being made with strategic interventions that address specific deprivations experienced by millions of Nigerians.
What can Nigerians expect?
Without strategic interventions which directly deal with the issues presented, Nigerians can expect to see grimmer reports like the one published by the UNDP. It is projected that by 2030, there will be at least 120 million Nigerians living in poverty, an estimate that was arrived at using a monetary-based approach of $1.90 per day. That figure would be substantially higher once we take a multidimensional view of poverty. Whatever way we look at it, Nigeria needs to act now.