Addressing poverty: Towards empowered Sri Lankan households


Money can’t buy happiness, or can it? Image Credit – Panduka de Silva

2020 has been a profoundly challenging year for Sri Lanka and the world at large with the COVID-19 pandemic causing an unprecedented crisis, so much so that for the very first time since UNDP established the concept of the Human Development Index in 1990, global human development is on track to decline this year.

The COVID-19 pandemic has interrupted education, disrupted livelihoods and has caused instability in socio-economic conditions of populations at large. Rising levels of poverty and widening inequalities are among the biggest concerns for Sri Lanka. As the country prepares to recover from this crisis, a holistic and multidimensional approach must be taken, beyond the traditional monetary measurement of poverty.

According to the 2020 global report on the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) entitled ‘Charting pathways out of multidimensional poverty: Achieving the SDGs’, 4.1% of the population in Sri Lanka live below the National poverty line, with 14.3% vulnerable to multidimensional poverty.

Multidimensional poverty, assessed in the reportjointly produced by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI), examines poverty beyond income deprivations and identifies multiple deprivations at the household and individual level in health, education and standard of living.

To generate a conversation around the MPI tool, as the designated technical lead within the UN system on socio-economic recovery, UNDP, along with the OPHI, launched the report in Sri Lanka in collaboration with the Department of Census and Statistics (DCS) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

Ceremoniously receiving the first copy at the virtual launch in Sri Lanka, Hon. Shehan Semasinghe, State Minister of Samurdhi, Household Economy, Micro Finance, Self-Employment, Business Development and Underutilized State Resources Development stated, “It is imperative that we underpin our policies and interventions using data and evidence presented in the 2020 global report on the Multidimensional Poverty Index. This is key to ensuring that Sri Lanka harnesses the COVID-19 crisis to leap forward towards the aspirations of our national policy framework and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”.

The report states that across 107 developing countries, 1.3 billion are multidimensionally poor, and this number could increase given COVID-19 repercussions. With just 10 years left to achieve the vision of the Sustainable development agenda, the MPI can be a powerful tool to formulate data driven policies that could help the recovery of countries.

Speaking at the event, Mr. Robert Juhkam, Resident Representative of UNDP in Sri Lanka stated, “There is no better time than now to introduce a multidimensional approach to poverty in Sri Lanka. As the technical lead on socioeconomic recovery, UNDP is well positioned to support DCS in this initiative. Together we can design a future that looks beyond recovery, towards 2030”.

The launch was followed by a panel discussion as a part of the Colombo Development Dialogues series, and was moderated by Mr. Raashid Riza, Policy and Engagement Analyst at UNDP in Sri Lanka on ‘Understanding vulnerabilities: addressing poverty, towards empowered Sri Lankan households’. The panel comprised of Dr. Indu Bandara, Director General of the Department of Census and Statistics; Ms. Louise Moreira Daniels, Chief of Social Policy at UNICEF; Dr. Sabina Alkire, Director of Oxford Poverty & Human Development Initiative; and Mr. Kulasabanathan Romeshun, Senior Research Professional at the Centre for Poverty Analysis.

Speaking on the global partnership between OPHI and UNDP in producing the MPI, Sabina Alkire, Director of OPHI at the University of Oxford concluded that, “The MPI’s compact evidence – with its information on both the level and composition of poverty – provides the data needed to pinpoint how and where poverty manifests itself, enabling policy makers to know how – and where – to target resources and interventions.”

The ongoing pandemic will likely create additional pressures on vulnerable and marginalized groups. Addressing each challenge requires a different approach, many of which need to go beyond improving income, to “build forward better” post-COVID-19.

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