The Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI) has been recognised as a force for science to benefit society, says Pali Lehohla, the former statistician-general of South Africa. Phtoto: Thobile Mathonsi
The Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI) has been recognised as a force for science to benefit society, says Pali Lehohla, the former statistician-general of South Africa. Phtoto: Thobile Mathonsi

OPINION: The MPI has come of age, should shape the new dawn

By Pali Lehohla Time of article published May 28, 2020

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JOHANNESBURG - The Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI) has been recognised as a force for science to benefit society.  

This year, Queen Elizabeth acknowledged the Oxford University  and OPHI for distinct intellectual output. And two weeks ago, the Boris Mints Institute of Israel also recognised OPHI director Professor Sabina Alkire for her sterling work. 

Alkire has immersed herself on the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) for more than a decade. About 60 countries from the developing world use the MPI to measure poverty and resilience points that need to be addressed.  

In South Africa, the key drivers of poverty are unemployment and lack of education. Between 2011 and 2016, unemployment and poor education nearly doubled compared with the 10 years prior.

Sadly, Statistics South Africa has since failed to measure both money metric and multidimensional poverty since 2016, largely because of the National Treasury not allocating resources to do so.

So as we literally sailed blindly through the state capture period, we have now entered the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic with masks on our faces, our eyes masked and ears blocked.  

Countries like Kenya, Lesotho, Egypt, Eswatini (Swaziland), Mozambique and Malawi ran their censuses before Covid-19 and are now in a position to calibrate what the poverty levels are at a microscopic level. 

South Africa, Namibia and Botswana may not be able to   do so next year as we look in the rear view mirror to understand what happened.  

South Africa in particular will use its raft of data at ward level to determine what happened. 

OPHI produces multidimensional poverty measures to inform on the  extent of Covid-19 vulnerability. The Great Lakes region and parts of Ethiopia and Somalia show greater vulnerabilities. 

While Covid-19 is sometimes referred to as a great leveller, the  MPI may open our eyes to the reality that many are buried below the scale, like blacks in the US. 

We will see similar patterns  in South Africa when the effects of our racial past and our tinkering with development rear their heads.  

The MPI should be central to the social and economic justice measures that should shape the new dawn.  

The Overton window of political possibilities is nigh and MPI has come of age.

Pali Lehohla is the former statistician-general of South Africa and former head of Statistics SA.

BUSINESS REPORT   

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