Millennium Post

A wake up call from UN

Material progress and social progress are two diametrically different propositions altogether that the success in one does not reflect analogous and distinct improvements in the other unless conscious efforts are put in place to lift all sections of society to a decent standard of living.

While the gross domestic product (GDP) growth captures material progress, the social progress is being captured in a new concept called human index development. To some extent most of the advanced countries had struck balance between the two, even as emerging economies including India and China and a host of developing countries and the least developed countries (LDCs) continue to wage a uphill battle to fulfill the aspirations of legions of their people.

Invariably these people struggle to make both ends meet when they are at the mercy of market and mercantilist forces that rule the roost in their economies. The latest report of the Washington-based International Food Policy Research institute (IFPRI) put India in a dismal slot of 63rd out of 78 countries at the Global Human Index (GHI)alongside many African and sub-Saharan countries.

This is further borne out by another report of the United Nations on Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) released in India on 16 July. The MDGs were a pledge made at the turn of the century to uphold the principles of human dignity, equality and equity and free the world from extreme poverty. They included eight MDGs, with a host of sub-targets covering a range of poverty, hunger, health, gender equality, education and environmental indicators with a due date of 2015. The report frankly admits that though Southern Asian region including India has made great progress on the MDGs, the region requires greater efforts to achieve most targets by the end of 2015.

Stating that the overwhelming majority of people living on less than $1.25 a day belong to Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, the UN said in 2010, one-third of the world’s 1.2 billion extreme poor lived in India alone. China, despite much progress in poverty reduction and stupendous economic achievement, ranked second and was home to about 13 per cent of the global extreme poor. Again, it pointed out that between 1990 and 2012, almost two billion people gained access to an improved sanitation facility.

Yet in 2012, 2.5 billion people did not use an improved sanitation facility and one billion people still resorted to open defecation. What is shocking is that close to 60 per cent of the one billion people practicing open defecation live in India posing s a huge risk to communities that are often poor and vulnerable already. This is particularly a painful reminder in light of recent research establishing a decisive causal link between poor sanitation and hygiene and malnutrition.

Yet another grim pointer is that renewable water resources in Southern Asia have withdrawal rates around 50 per cent. This is close to the threshold of 60 per cent at which physical water scarcity becomes a concern, both in the lives of people and for the environment; ecosystems become strained and not all users get the desired amount of water at all times.  This should goad the authorities in India to focus on water conservation, ground water recharging and other important measures on a war-footing if a water famine or water war is to be thwarted or averted before long.

In fact, the Minister of Minority Affairs Najma Heptulla while participating in the launch function of the report conceded that the four references to India pertain to poverty, infant-deaths, maternal deaths and sanitation and none of these references are ‘flattering’.

In a written response to a query in the Lok Sabha on 18 July, the Minister of Health and Family Welfare Harsh Vardhan said infant mortality rate in India is 42 per 1000 live births and maternal mortality rate is 178 per one lakh lives, citing figures from Sample Registration System report 2012 of Registrar General of India. He said as per extant WHO/UNICEF Global report, 47 countries have higher IMR than India and 52 countries have higher MMR than India. He, however, maintained that in 2012, under five mortality rate in India is 52 and it may reach 42 per thousand live births in 2015. He further said maternal mortality rate is likely to reach 141 from 560 in 1990 if 5.7 per cent compound rate of annual decline continues.  But the task on hand is not facile in the absence of due pre and post-natal care for both the mother and the child in many a primary health care centres in the villages in rural India.

Again, he stated in another query in the Lok Sabha on 18 July, citing the National Family Health Survey (NHFS)-3 conducted in 2005-2006, that 42.5 per cent children below five are underweight and 48 per cent are stunted. Considering the grim admission in the UN report that child nutrition continues to haunt the globe with one out of every four children suffering from some for m of chronic malnutrition, the authorities should focus their attention on improving the quality intake of children under five through targeted subsidies to the really needy in both rural and urban habitations so that posterity does not pose challenges to the country’s development in terms of a successful human index progress, social analysts say wryly.

The Secretary-General UN, Ban Ki-Moon perceptively noted in his foreword to the report ‘we need bolder and focused attention where significant gaps and disparities exist’ The Modi government has the tasks cut out in terms of translating most of its inclusive vision of development of India into feasible reality. It is time the nation got its priorities back on track so that social security of people is ensured and not the mere spectacle of glitzy malls, that give a false and insecure sense of development beneath which lurks bottled up resentment and restiveness of millions.
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