Health as a global public good – An essential reframing for poverty measurement and a more balanced view on sustainability

By: Jieling Liu and Franz Gatzweiler

1. The flawed and antiquated international poverty line

We have learnt from COVID-19 that the key is to ‘flatten the curve’ and many have thereby appreciated a slower pace of life. The same lesson is valuable for the sustainability discourse in the post-COVID era. We need to flatten the development curve and decelerate. The current pandemic, climate impacts, and resource scarcity are all entangled in the global development bottleneck. Similar to the inadequacy of GDP measurement, development economists have long argued that the current $1.90 international poverty line is flawed and antiquated. Understanding and measuring poverty is more about distribution and access to opportunities than reaching a monetary threshold. Despite the emergence of numerous improved wellbeing indicators in the last three decades, such as the Human Development Index (HDI) by Amartya Sen, the multidimensional approaches to poverty, the Gini coefficient, other alternative approaches such as the Happpiness index and the human rights-based approaches, the overly simplified international poverty line is still being used to compare the progress of nations. Behind this phenomenon is the view that money can create wealth and buy wellbeing. The $1.90 poverty line is too low, and most success in eliminating poverty globally is due to China’s contribution. A multidimensional system of indicators, including health, to improve poverty measurement, is needed.

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