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The World’s Poorest Regions Are not Always Where You’d Expect

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Most people living in the world’s poorest regions don’t actually live in the poorest countries, according to a new study released Tuesday, which sheds new light on how country-wide poverty statistics can tell an incomplete story.

Researchers with the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative at the University of Oxford parsed through regional data for 71 developing countries to determine more specifically where the poorest people live. They found that roughly 60 percent of people in the poorest regions are in countries that are not among the UN-determined Least Developed Countries, including in India, Pakistan and Nigeria.

Instead of looking at income levels, the study uses a relatively new measure of poverty known as the Multi-dimensional Poverty Index (MPI). The MPI, developed by OPHD and the United Nations, tracks basic needs across different areas of life, such as education, health and access to safe water; people who are deprived of at least one-third of the ten indicators are considered multi-dimensionally poor.

“Unlike poverty measures that are reported only at a national level, the headline MPI is just the first layer,” says the study’s briefing note, released Tuesday in conjunction with an updated global MPI. “Looking closer, we can zoom in and see exactly how and where people are poor – which pockets of the world they live in and which deprivations they experience together. It gives a clearer view.”

While Niger, the landlocked West African country, is the poorest country overall, the world’s five poorest regions are in fact in Chad or Burkina Faso. In the poorest among them, Chad’s southern Salamat region, 98 percent of the inhabitants, or 354,000 people, are considered multi-dimensionally poor.

By delving into regional data, the study also identified major differences within countries. In Nigeria, for example, 8.5 percent of people in the port city of Lagos are multi-dimensionally poor, while 91.9% of people the Zamfara, in the country’s north, are poor. In Cameroon, 6.7 percent of people in the largest city, Doula, are poor, while 87 percent of people in the Far North region are poor.

“The MPI enables us to examine poverty within regions of a country as well as nationally, and compare the interlocking deprivations people experience,” Dr. Sabina Alkire, director of the OPHI, said in a statement. “Our findings highlight the value of having good quality, up-to-date and detailed survey data to reveal what life is really like for the poorest section of populations.”

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Write to Noah Rayman at noah.rayman@time.com