EXCLUSIVE: Coronavirus Could Reduce 260 Million Indians To Poverty, Say Oxford University Researchers

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Officials from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) have backed these estimates by the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative.
ASSOCIATED PRESS A group of daily wage labourers walk along an expressway on the outskirts of New Delhi on March 26, 2020.

Sambalpur, ODISHA — At least 260 million people in India could be pushed into poverty due to the economic fallout from coronavirus, putting at risk historic gains made in poverty alleviation, according to estimates from United Nations and Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI).

The 2019 UN Development Programme's Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), developed in collaboration with OPHI at the University of Oxford, had reported in a study last year that India lifted 271 million people out of poverty between 2006 and 2016. This was the fastest absolute reduction in poverty among ten countries encompassing close to 2 billion people, the researchers noted, even as 369 million Indians remained poor, the highest globally.

But as coronavirus batters India's economy and hundreds of millions of Indians struggle to eke out a living under a punitive national lockdown, more than 260 million Indians—who are presently classified as vulnerable to poverty—are at risk of becoming the new poor, according to researchers such as the OPHI's Sabina Alkire who worked on the 2019 numbers.

Unlike income poverty, multidimensional poverty does not rely on any single indicator. To track poverty, it takes into account multiple deprivations experienced by people in health, education and standard of living across 10 indicators — nutrition, child mortality, years of schooling, school attendance, sanitation, cooking fuel, drinking water, electricity, housing and assets. People deprived in at least a third of the indicators, or 33% of the indicators, are classified as poor.

Under global MPI, people who experience deprivations in at least 20-33% of the indicators are classified as vulnerable. In other words, these are people who remain close to the poverty line.

In 2015-2016, according to global MPI, 27.9% of people in India were poor while a staggering…
Rohit Inani
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