The Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI) has developed a new international measure of poverty – the Multidimensional Poverty Index or MPI – for the 20th Anniversary edition of the United Nations Development Programme’s flagship Human Development Report. The new innovative index goes beyond a traditional focus on income to reflect the multiple deprivations that a poor person faces with respect to education, health and living standard. This brief summarises the new method and key findings and shows how the MPI can be used.

Read the OPHI MPI Brief here


"My name is Michael Blunck from GTZ, the German Agency for Technical Cooperation.

I am working for GTZ’s Programme on Poverty-oriented Basic Energy Services; one of our tasks is knowledge management and dissemination of concepts for basic energy supply in rural areas of developing countries.

Me and my colleagues noticed with great interest that OPHI has developed a new Multidimensional Poverty Index that is supposed to replace the Human Development Index. We welcome this initiative and we generally agree that this new index is superior in capturing the multidimensional character of poverty.

We are particularly pleased that issues related to energy have been incorporated into the new Poverty Index:

- Electricity: deprived if the household has no electricity
- Cooking Fuel: deprived if they cook with wood, charcoal or dung

While we totally agree with the lack of electricity as an element of household deprivation (lack of access to information (TV, radio) and good lighting, Indoor Air Pollution, high household expenditures on kerosene), we do not fully agree with the type of cooking fuel as a poverty measure.

Without doubt, traditional cooking practices involving biomass fuels lead to significant problems in particular for women and children in rural households: Indoor Air Pollution and the purchase/time-consuming collection of biomass fuels can constitute a significant burden. On the other hand, biomass can be a relatively cheap and renewable (CO2-neutral) energy source. The problems arising from biomass use are not principally related to the cooking fuel but to its polluting and inefficient combustion. Modern technologies for biomass combustion such as improved cooking stoves can significantly reduce Indoor Air Pollution and biomass consumption; they therewith constitute a reasonable alternative to the utilization of carbon-intensive and costly fuels such as kerosene, LPG or electricity from coal/gas-powered grids.

In a nut-shell: It’s not the FUEL, but the way it is USED.

Hence the indicator should be focusing on assessing the latter. Otherwise we may motivate changes which are not only insignificant to the intended issue of poverty reduction, but also harmful to the environment and the economic development of the developing countries. It might actually reduce the support of national governments to those initiatives which actually are most realistic to deliver positive change to the most poor households: the promotion of improved cooking stoves.

The present cooking fuel indicator is based on the assumption of a linear “energy ladder”: poverty reduction implies the replacement of biomass by kerosene, LPG and finally – the ultimate “modern” fuel – electricity. Poverty reduction strategies derived from the use of the new Multidimensional Poverty Index will therefore support the switch from renewable biomass fuels to “superior” fossil fuels (electricity is not a cost-efficient option for cooking in most developing countries due to the large amount of energy needed for cooking applications*); in the context of climate change and the electricity crisis in many developing countries the modern (efficient & clean) use of wood fuels should be seen as a sustainable way of cooking, not as an indicator of human deprivation*. We therefore suggest to change the definition of deprivation for the Cooking Fuel Indicator from “The household cooks with dung, wood or charcoal” to “The household cooks with dung, wood or charcoal on traditional (inefficient, air-polluting) stoves”.

Data on the use of improved (efficient, clean) cooking stoves can be obtained e.g. from the recent UNDP/WHO publication “The Energy Access Situation in Developing Countries” (p. 19).

We kindly ask you to consider these issues in case of any future revisions of the Multidimensional Poverty Index.

Don’t hesitate to contact me in case of any questions."

Best regards,

Michael Blunck
Poverty-oriented Basic Energy Services (HERA)
Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ) GmbH