People's lives are not measured by income alone. That idea is at the heart of all the Human Development Reports since the first one was produced for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in 1990. We cannot rely on growth trickling down automatically. It takes government policy and action to ensure that income helps citizens to expand their choices and to gain adequate health, education and resources for themselves and for their children - in other words, to achieve human development.


Since poverty is often so linked with human development, or lack of it, the 1996 report took a special look at poverty and concluded that income poverty is only part of the picture. "Just as human development encompasses aspects of life much broader than income, so poverty should be seen as having many dimensions," says the report. As a result, the report introduced a new, multidimensional measure of human deprivation called the capability poverty measure, (CPM). The CPM focuses on human capabilities, just as human development index does. Instead of examining the average state of people's capabilities, it reflects the percentage of people who lack basic, or minimally essential human capabilities, which are ends in themselves and are needed to lift one from income poverty and to sustain strong human development.

The CPM considers the lack of three basic capabilities. The first is the lack of being well nourished and healthy, represented in this case by the proportion of children under five years who are underweight. The second is the lack of capability for healthy reproduction, shown by the proportion of births unattended by trained personnel. The third is the lack of capability to be educated and knowledgeable, represented by female illiteracy. The composite index emphasizes deprivation of women because, says the report, "It is now well known that the deprivation of women adversely affects the human development of families and of society."

Comparing the new capability poverty measure with the income poverty index, the report found that while 21 per cent of the people in developing countries are below the income poverty line, 37 per cent face capability poverty. That is, 900 million people in developing countries are income poor, but 1.6 billion are capability poor.

Nor does economic growth always help. Pakistan's economy grew at a startling 6.1 per cent a year between 1980 and 1993. Its poverty level, 34 per cent of the population, is worse than the developing world average of 21 per cent. But 6.1 per cent of Pakistan's people are capability poor, suggesting that even its poverty is underestimated and that without action to improve people's capabilities, progress will be slow and income poverty will grow.

In South Asia, the contrast is even greater: 29 per cent of the people are income poor, while more that 62 per cent are capability poor. Only Sri Lanka in that region shows capability poverty at a lower rate than income poverty. "Clearly, South Asia needs to concentrate on developing people's basic capabilities," says the report. In all countries, "poverty cannot be eradicated merely by boosting income. It will also take a broad expansion of basic human capabilities and the productive use of those capabilities".






copyright WAI 2000