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Prioritising social necessities

Reallocating resources in public interest is imperative for nuclear-armed nations to realise an egalitarian society

Prioritising social necessities

Year after year India's rating in the human development index and hunger index are falling. We have fallen even below other South Asian countries. Our position in the hunger index is 103 out of 119 countries. In 2017 our ranking was 100. In contrast, China is at 25th, Nepal 72nd, Myanmar 68th, Sri Lanka at 67th and Bangladesh at 86th position. It is no matter to rejoice that Pakistan is below us at the 106th rating. Hunger index is based on the level of nourishment, child mortality, child wasting, and child stunting.

We are also very low on the human development index (HDI). India has been ranked 131st out of 188 countries in the 2017 Human Development Index (HDI), as per the latest Human Development Report (HDR) 2016 by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The Human Development Index (HDI) is a composite statistic of life expectancy, education, and income per capita indicators. A country scores higher HDI when the life expectancy at birth is longer, the education period longer, and the income per capita is higher.

These reports indeed raise serious concern over the policies towards economic development, education and health. They also belie the claims of the government of making India a global power. With a growth marginalising vast majority out of gains of new technological developments, such indices are not going to go up.

Another issue that needs to be pondered over is why only Pakistan and India have gone so low as compared to other countries of the region when they are much smaller and have comparatively low potential of economic growth as compared to us. The perpetual tension between India and Pakistan is driving them into the arms race. Since 1998 when both acquired nuclear weapons, things have gone worse. These weapons, which the governments term as weapons of self-defence, have in fact become the issue of a show of power and self-grandiosity. No wonder these are used to spread narrow nationalism and jingoism. They ultimately lead to impoverishment, a step to mutually assured destruction.

India is the 5th largest military spender with an outlay of $55.9 billion (Rs.3,63,350 crore). India's defence expenditure is 1.62 per cent of its GDP, while its central health budget is 0.26 per cent of GDP, six times less than its arms budget. Pakistan's budgetary allocation on arms is over $8 billion. With an economy that is worth $300 billion, this takes Pakistan's defence expenditure to 2.9 per cent of its GDP.

As per the latest report of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the annual global defence expenditure is $1,699 billion (2.2 per cent of the global GDP). The US tops defence spending at $611 billion. China's defence expenditure is $215 billion.

Globally, annual expenditure on nuclear weapons is estimated at $105 billion – or $12 million an hour. The World Bank forecast in 2002 that an annual investment of just $40-60 billion, or roughly half the amount currently spent on nuclear weapons, would be enough to meet the internationally agreed goals for poverty alleviation. Nuclear weapons spending in 2010 were more than twice the official development assistance provided to Africa and equal to the gross domestic product of Bangladesh, a nation of some 160 million people. The Office for Disarmament Affairs – the principal UN body responsible for advancing a nuclear weapon- free world – has an annual budget of $10 million, which is less than the amount spent on nuclear weapons every hour.

While hundreds of millions of people across the globe go hungry, the nuclear-armed nations spend close to $300 million (Rs.2,000 crores) a day on their nuclear forces. The production, maintenance and modernisation of nuclear forces divert vast public resources away from healthcare, education, climate change mitigation, disaster relief, development assistance and other vital services.

As former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said: "The world is over-armed and peace is under-funded …. The end of the cold war has led the world to expect a massive peace dividend. Yet, there are over 20,000 nuclear weapons around the world. Many of them are still on hair-trigger alert, threatening our own survival."

No time can be lost to make the world free of nuclear weapons. There is a need for substantial reduction in small arms and diversion of wasteful expenditure on these towards health, education and other social needs.

(The views expressed are strictly personal)

Arun Mitra

Arun Mitra

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