The Sustainable Development Goals, COVID-19, and the Multidimensional Poverty Response

4 August, 2020

By Gonzalo Hernández-Licona (MPPN Director) and Mónica Pinilla-Roncancio (OPHI)

The 2030 Agenda for sustainable development is one of the broadest agreements that countries have proposed in recent decades. The agenda encompasses goals associated with inequality, violence, the environment, and deaths caused by noncommunicable diseases, among other topics of great importance to global development. It also seeks to meet goals to guarantee access to clean water sources, adequate sanitation, electricity and the internet. For the first time, a global agreement was proposed to reduce poverty in all of its dimensions, thus providing an opportunity to employ a multidimensional perspective in the measurement and analysis of the situation of people experiencing poverty.

The path toward meeting the 2030 Agenda has not been an easy one. Despite the enthusiasm of countries and various international organizations, in practice, the implementation of this broad and ambitious agenda has encountered a variety of challenges.

In the first place, it is important to recognize that the Agenda is not a technical agreement, but rather a political one. This means that there is no clear methodology for implementing the 17 objectives and 169 goals. In addition, while the SDGs are an excellent path toward development, it is impossible for all countries to take identical steps to meet them. For example, countries like Somalia, Norway, India, and Paraguay are all in different phases of development, with different histories, institutions, resources, and especially, priorities.

Another important challenge is the fact that those countries and international institutions have limited financial and human resources, making it essential to prioritize goals and objectives. Finally, a very important goal is connected to the interrelationship between objectives and goals; often, achieving one goal affects another, which is why it has not been easy to incorporate the process of the 2030 Agenda.

The goals for implementation have been challenging, but a new goal was added as of early 2020 when, on 11 March, the World Health Organization declared a pandemic due to COVID-19. The pandemic has affected every country, with over 7 million people infected as of June, 2020, and over 400,000 dead worldwide.

It is the first time in 100 years that the world has faced a challenge of that magnitude, and countries of low, medium, and high levels of income and development have been forced to implement measures to contain the spread of the virus and protect their healthcare systems from immediate collapse.

Containment measures and social distancing have helped to control the number of COVID-19 infections, reducing mortality and morbidity due to this disease. Nonetheless, those measures have had negative effects on the general public, with everyone affected –including the poorest and most vulnerable, many of whom have found themselves without income, while many others are at increased risk of poverty.

A multidimensional perspective in the analysis of poverty serves as the starting point for achieving the 2030 Agenda.


The COVID-19 pandemic has not only placed enormous pressure on healthcare systems, already precarious in some countries, it has also revealed the weaknesses of social protections along with existing inequality. For many countries, especially those with lower and middle-income, medium and long-term development has shifted to mere survival in the coming months, which may result in countries temporarily setting aside the 2030 Agenda.

We believe, however, that now it is more important than ever that countries and international institutions place strategic focus on the SDGs. For a variety of reasons, it is our suggestion that a multidimensional perspective in the analysis of poverty serves as the starting point for achieving the 2030 Agenda.

First, the analysis of this issue from a multidimensional angle has permitted the development of multidimensional and vulnerability poverty indices, allowing the analysis of groups or regions at high risk of suffering high mortality rates and of suffering the most severe consequences of the containment methods.

For example, if a region has a population that suffers high levels of deprivation with regard to access to a clean water source or clean cooking fuel, or if it has overcrowding issues, it is clear that the people living in this region are more vulnerable in the face of COVID-19.

Secondly, the measurement of multidimensional poverty, based on the Alkire-Foster method, is carried out with the interrelationships among different dimensions within the index in mind, making it possible to confront the ever-present challenges encountered whenever there are multiple goals in public policy.

Thirdly, it is a fact that due to the pandemic, poverty will increase in many countries, and progress made over the past few years in human and economic development will be lost, making the fight against poverty an even higher priority. Lastly, if countries focus on reducing multidimensional poverty – Goal 1.2.2 of the SDGs – they are helping with the implementation of the agenda in a broad sense, prioritizing resources in an indicator that has the great advantage of encompassing a variety of objectives and goals at once.

For the first time since the publication of the SDGs, the world has found itself in a situation in which it is especially important for all countries to ensure adequate compliance with the 2030 Agenda, especially with regard to universal access to healthcare services and increased coverage of social protection services, which have been key in being able to mitigate the effects of COVID-19. Access to a clean water source and having a home that is in good condition are also fundamental to being able to ensure that the most effective measures to prevent infection are in place. These goals are an important part of the multidimensional poverty measures in many countries.

While many countries in Africa and Latin America continue to face an increased number of cases of COVID-19, and the world remains in the grips of the pandemic, many countries are already reactivating their economies and adjusting to a new normal, until a vaccination is made and distributed. It is important then to plan for the post-pandemic period, using a tool that permits states to continue the process of achieving the SDGs and somehow trying to return to pre-pandemic levels of development. That tool might well be the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI).


This article was published in Dimensions 10.


COVID19 Multidimensional Poverty ODS Pobreza Multidimensional SDGs Sustainable Development Goals