What is the Human Poverty Index?

T. Briseno

While poverty often is measured by the average income or financial resources of a region, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) has created a measurement system based on what is lacking in different areas of the world. This measurement is called the Human Poverty Index, also called HPI, and it gathers data in developing countries and in those with higher incomes so a basis for comparison and comprehension of needs can be presented numerically and graphically. Factors such as short life expectancy, low literacy rates, and overall living conditions are recorded in the Human Poverty Index.

The Human Poverty Index is intended to measure poverty around the globe based on the basic needs of poor people.
The Human Poverty Index is intended to measure poverty around the globe based on the basic needs of poor people.

Using deprivation as a means to record levels of poverty, the Human Poverty Index compiles data from developing countries, noted as HPI-1, and from a sample of higher per capita income countries, grouped as HPI-2. In the United Nations Human Development Report 2009, values from 2007 included HPI rankings for 182 countries. For example, index ratings for Albania — 4 — and Bosnia-Herzegovina — 2.8 — which are generally considered economically challenged European countries, may seem strikingly lower than the rankings for Afghanistan —59.8 — and Niger — 55.8. However, where one region may lack the most basic resources for producing food and reaching old age, other areas may have plentiful food but be poor in other resources or opportunities. Looking at these imbalances is aided with the Human Poverty Index.

A shanty town.
A shanty town.

Several categories are used in compiling this index. One of the categories measured is survival, or the likelihood of dying before age 40 in a developing country or before age 60 in a higher-income area. A second category considers literacy and knowledge or who and how many in a population are excluded from educational opportunities and learning to read and write.

The United Nations, which is headquartered in New York City, uses the Human Development Index to ascertain a nation's quality of life.
The United Nations, which is headquartered in New York City, uses the Human Development Index to ascertain a nation's quality of life.

Overall quality of life or the standard of living is the third consideration of the Human Poverty Index, and it is measured differently for the HPI-1 and HPI-2 countries. HPI-1 countries are reviewed by the lack of access to clean and safe water and the percentage of children who are underweight, while the HPI-2 countries are measured by the number of individuals living below the poverty income line. This third category can be summarized as a lack of access to resources. A fourth category for the HPI-2, or more developed, countries is that of long-term unemployment and overall lack of opportunity to participate in society.

Within the United Nations Development Program, these indices may change as poverty affects people groups in different ways across the globe. Reports available online through the UNDP website generally include separate variables with gender and age considerations, and these may be sorted as spreadsheets in order to view specific regions or concerns comparatively. Measurements for the Human Poverty Index also may be ongoing, as the UN looks to identify poverty in all its aspects. Attempts to quantify human poverty may bring further capabilities for addressing it, whether through the UN or through other international agencies who utilize the data.

Impoverished children eating watermelon.
Impoverished children eating watermelon.

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Discussion Comments


@ Parmnparsley- I would have to disagree with the previous comment. I think that poverty in countries like India, Niger, Afghanistan, even right here in the United States can be eradicated. There are too many people for this planet to support based on current consumption levels, but new ideas and technologies will eventually change this. It is no longer the impoverished that are feeling the pinch of diminishing resources, now those well above the poverty line are feeling the pressure. Better methods of resource management are being created every day, and there are advancements in technology on the horizon that will be able to revolutionize the way that we use energy.

Energy is the basis of poverty and wealth, and eventually humanity will begin to shift towards a sustainable energy based economy. The reason there is so much resistance to this is that there is over a trillion dollars’ worth of profit in the form of petroleum, coal, and natural gas locked up beneath the earth's surface. Greed drives people to completely exploit those resources before they are willing to move on to the next new source.


@ Parmnparsley- Honestly, there are quite a few groups of people against poverty eradication whether they are aware of it or not. There is also some question as to whether the eradication of poverty is even attainable since the world population is so large.

The fact there is poverty means there exists its polar opposite…wealth. If you look at a global picture of the wealth stream of almost everyone, you would see that poverty is necessary for wealth. If everyone were given their fair due for the resources that are collected, regardless of whether those resources are natural or human, then those exploiting those resources would profit far less than they do currently. I go so far as to say that poverty is a necessary component for capitalism. Hate it or love it, that is the way it is.


Why is poverty so hard to eradicate? I just want to get people’s opinions and perceptions on why world poverty is still such an issue, even with all of the public campaigns, fundraisers, etc. Someone once told me that a mere (in the sense of the global economy) 25 billion would eradicate global hunger, yet people still starve every day. That is only $4 from every person on the earth or $25 from the 1 billion wealthiest citizens. With all of the great philanthropic causes donating millions, or even billions of dollars, you would think that there would be some basic standard of living established.

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