Poverty is an Assault on Human Rights

Poverty is Now a Global Concern

Why not redefine 'Billionaire?'

Why not redefine ‘Billionaire?’

In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of. – Confucius

Poverty reduction is an international issue (at least, in the rhetoric of institutions such as the World Bank), yet it is still mostly seen from the narrow economic perspective. In poor countries where survival is at stake, poverty is generally measured in absolute terms; that is, the amount of money necessary to meet basic needs such as food, clothing, and shelter. The World Bank uses $1.25 a day as the international benchmark of extreme poverty. The Bank is happy that three decades ago globally 1.9 billion people lived in extreme poverty which reduced to about half in 2010 (1.2 billion) despite increase in world population. It is also despite the fact that the sub Saharan Africa doubled the number of people living in extreme poverty in 2010 (414 million) than three decades ago (205 million). The concept of absolute poverty is not concerned with broader quality of life issues or with the overall level of inequality in society. The concept also ignores the social and cultural needs of people.

In somewhat more developed or advanced societies, where quality of life becomes an issue, poverty is defined in relative terms. Relative poverty considers the status of other members of the society. In this perspective, people are poor if they fall below some average standard of living in the society. It may also be said that the poor have been left out from the development process – they somehow got excluded. The concept of social exclusion has contributed significantly towards development of different indicators of ill-being and enhanced the conceptual understanding of poverty.

Social Exclusion of ST, SC and OBC Communities

Talking of social exclusion, the latest National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO) figures indicate that poverty is highest among the marginalized groups in India. In the rural areas, around 47 per cent Scheduled Tribes (ST) live in poverty; it is followed by the Scheduled Castes (SC) at 42.3 percent, Other Backward Castes (OBC) at 31.9 per cent. These figures are enough to prove that when some groups are excluded from the normal social processes (for whatever reasons), they get pushed into poverty. For them it is difficult to come out of poverty due to discrimination against them. Prime Minister Modi’s “clean India” mission acquires special significance in this context. It offers a good forum to raise their intimate issues – from manual scavenging to cultural stigma attached on them.  Let’s hope that the positive side effect of the mission will help the lower caste communities get absorbed into the national mainstream.

Food Security Scenario in India

With India expected to become the most populous country in the world by 2025, providing sufficient food and nutrition to its population is going to be a serious challenges in the coming years. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 1.3 billion tonnes of food, about one-third of the global food production is either wasted or lost. Food wastage is sacrilegious in India, when so many people are unable to get two square meals a day.

Some stark facts about food wastage and consumption

  • 33% of all the food produce globally doesn’t reach human mouths – it’s lost in transit, damaged or wasted by consumers.
  • Developed nations like the US and European countries throw away 222 million tonnes of edible food every year which is almost equal to what sub-Saharan Africa consumes!
  • India loses about 21 million tonnes of wheat annually due to inadequate storage and distribution.
  • The Department of Industry Promotion and Planning (DIPP) claims that losses of farm produce every year are estimated to be over Rs 1 trillion (1,00,000 crore) per annum of which 57% percent is due to avoidable wastage.
  • Food consumption as a share of household expenditure averages 49.5 percent in India, as against an average of 52.3 percent in South Asia and just 20 percent in high income countries.
  • In India an average person consumes 37 grams of quality protein. In comparison, an average person in low-income countries consumes 48.7 grams and in a high income country 101.7 grams.

Poverty is Multidimensional

eradicate poverty look beyond incomeThe Copenhagen Declaration at the “World Summit on Social Development” described poverty as “a condition characterized by severe deprivation of basic human needs such as food, shelter, safe drinking water, sanitation, health, education, and information”.

The declaration points to multidimensional nature of poverty; it must be seen beyond lack of income in a holistic manner. There are many factors – such as the social structure, culture, power, political and so on – that can also cause poverty. Without considering the role of these factors, poverty alleviation program are not going to be effective. Economists’ monetary view of poverty is clearly inadequate. Now social and development experts agree that people’s well-being cannot be measured in money alone.

The UNDP defines poverty ‘as a denial of choices and opportunities for living a tolerable life.’ Poverty undermines human rights – economic (the right to work and have an adequate income), social (access to health care and education), political (freedom of thought, expression and association) and cultural (the right to maintain one’s cultural identity and be involved in community’s cultural life). A generalized set of basic rights relevant to most societies include:

  • Right to adequate food
  • Right to health
  • Right to education
  • Right to sustainable livelihood
  • Right to adequate housing
  • Right to appear in public without shame
  • Right to equal access to justice
  • Political rights and freedoms

These rights can be seen as expanding assets and capabilities of poor people to participate in, negotiate with, influence, control, and hold responsible institutions that affect their lives. Once empowered with basic rights people can assert their right to be the subject, rather than the object of development. The poor are no longer passive recipients – no say in things that affect their lives.

‘Empowerment’ is the Key to Poverty Eradication

poor agents of changePerhaps the most holistic approach is the capability (empowerment or ability to function) perspective of Amartya Sen. He sees income as just a means to an end (that of making people more capable of leading their life comfortably) rather than an end it itself. The goods and services money buys are only expected to enhance his/her capabilities to make life better.

The capability perspective suggests that poverty signifies a lack of basic capability to function, required to lead a good life. Capability deprivation or capability failure is the defining attribute of poverty. It also defines the concept of development in a comprehensive way. It touches upon things like empowerment (to eliminate exclusion and marginalization of the poor), participation (to give them opportunities to be heard) and freedom of choices. It also goes beyond physical conditions or possessions to institutional and political elements. This approach does not see people as mere tools (means) of development (seen as economic growth); they are the “target” of development.

The capabilities approach of Sen also supports the rights based anti-poverty programs. The basic rights empower poor people that enhance their freedoms to make their lives better. Sen views freedom as the ultimate goal of economic development; he views development as set of activities enhancing the quality of life by expanding individual freedoms.

People who have learned to view GDP growth alone as the measure of progress or development must ask the basic question, ‘what is the basic purpose of development?’ Amartya Sen provides the answer, ‘The purpose of development is to enhance people’s capabilities and enrich their lives.’ Economic growth is included in this definition but only as a means, never as an end. Therefore, everything which empowers people is development.

Bangladeshi economist Nobel winner Muhammad Yunus, through his microcredit initiative, firmly believes that “The poor themselves can create a poverty-free world… all we have to do is to free them from the chains that we have put around them.”

Reading Further

Why “Development” should Focus on People, Not Economy
Redefining Development: From Mere “GDP Growth” to Holistic Development
What Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness Teach the World

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What India can Learn from Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness (GNH)

GNH more important than GDPBhutan was the first country Indian Prime Minister Modi visited after assuming office in 2014. There must be something special about Bhutan besides being India’s neighbor. Yes, there is very special reason why informed people go to Bhutan: its development paradigm of Gross National Happiness (GNH). Bhutan pursues holistic happiness, not GDP growth. It is the only country in the world that does not measure its progress in terms of economic expansion measured as GDP growth. Its development model is easily the most sustainable and is the envy of the world. No wonder the UN and global community looks towards it as a role model of sustainable development.

Bhutan’s holistic view of development has the potential to transform humanity’s relationship with nature, restructure economies, change attitudes to food and wealth, and promote caring, altruism, inclusiveness and cooperation.

Global Interest in Bhutan’s GNH

The old model is broken. We need to create a new one… In this time of global challenge, even crisis, business as usual will not do… It is time to recognize that human capital and natural capital are every bit as important as financial capital. It is time to invest in people… Clearly we must unite around a shared vision for the future – a vision for equitable human development, a healthy planet, an enduring economic dynamism. – Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary General

Bhutan’s Prime Minister Jigme Thinley of Bhutan describes today’s economic growth as empty – it is not adding value to human lives. It is a growth just for the sake of growth fueled by greed – insatiable human greed – to accumulate wealth. It is clear that there is no sustainability in chasing ever increasing consumption in the name of progress. Today’s global economic activities are only fueling the global warming and climate change processes which are posing a serious threat to the existence of humanity.

holistic Development 1

The Idea of Gross National Happiness is Spreading Across the World

In 2004, Bhutan held an international seminar on operationalizing Gross National Happiness. It created considerable interest in the global community and motivated them to setup a Gross International Happiness Network. Clearly the influence of Gross National Happiness is no more confined within Bhutan Borders. The concept of Gross National Happiness is now being taken up the United Nations and by various other countries.

The United Nations has been showing special interest in its development model. Here is the chronology of United Nations interest in the holistic development leading to enhanced human happiness.

In December 2009, Bhutan’s commitment to remain Carbon neutral was emphasized at the UNFCCC 15th Session of Conference of Parties (COP15) in Copenhagen in December 2009, through the “Declaration of the Kingdom of Bhutan – The Land of Gross National Happiness to Save our Planet.” Bhutan’s 2010 economic policy also reaffirmed its “green growth” stand.

In July 2011, the UN general Assembly adopted the resolution (65/309) titled “Happiness: Towards a Holistic Approach to Development” initiated by Bhutan. This resolution states that:

“Happiness is a fundamental human goal and universal aspiration; that GDP by its nature does not reflect that goal; that unsustainable patterns of production and consumption impede sustainable development; and that a more inclusive, equitable and balanced approach is needed to promote sustainability, eradicate poverty, and enhance wellbeing and happiness.”

Adopted by 193 members, it marked the first historical step towards globalizing the concept of gross national happiness (GNH) followed by Bhutan and gave some hope to nations and societies striving for sustainable development.

Following up on the above resolution, in April 2012 Bhutan convened a high level meeting on “Well-being and Happiness: Defining a New Economic Paradigm” in New York. It brought together over 800 distinguished participants from around the world, indicating the universal recognition that development must be holistic and inclusive and must be focused towards enhancing well-being and happiness of people.

Then in June 2012 the UN declares March 20 to be observed as the International Day of Happiness

In July 2012, Bhutan establishes a Steering Committee and an International Expert Working Group (IEWG) to draft the proposed New Development Paradigm (NDP) to be submitted to the UN for international debate.

In Nov/Dec 2012, Bhutan’s leadership role for environmental protection was recognized at the UN climate summit in Nov/Dec 2012 in Doha, Qatar.

In September 2013, Bhutan submitted its report titled Happiness: Towards A New Development Paradigm to the UN General Assembly. It hopes that the report will influence the UN’s Post-2015 development agenda.

So, what is this gross national happiness (GNH), currently the hottest topic of debate in the international development circles?

Gross National Happiness (GNH)

GNH is a “multi-dimensional development approach that seeks to achieve a harmonious balance between material well-being and the spiritual, emotional and cultural needs of our society.” Founded on the belief that happiness can be achieved by balancing the needs of the body with those of the mind within a peaceful and secure environment, it requires that the purpose of development must be to create enabling conditions through public policy

The idea of GNH was first proposed in 1972 by Bhutan’s former king, Jigme Singye Wangchuk. Since then enhancing people’s happiness has been the prime goal of the government. In 1999, the Center for Bhutan Studies (CBS) was established as an autonomous research institute for the purpose of ‘promoting and deepening the understanding of Gross National Happiness (GNH)’. It also helps policymakers define development strategies to promote the GNH.

GNH Pillars and Domains 1The center conceived the idea of quantifying happiness in the form of a Gross National Happiness Index and proposed the four pillars of its GNH approach as the dimensions of the holistic development agenda. These are (1) promotion of environmental conservation, (2) promotion of sustainable and equitable socio-economic development, (3) preservation and promotion of culture and (4) promotion of good governance. These dimensions are inextricably interrelated to produce equitable and sustainable well-being for all.

These pillars (dimensions) are subdivided in the following nine domains (probed by 33 indicators) that are intended to be reviewed and updated to reflect changing social conditions: 1) Psychological well-being, 2) Health, 3) Time use, 4) Education, 5) Cultural diversity and resilience, 6) Good governance, 7) Community vitality, 8) Ecological diversity and resilience and 9) Living standards.

How is GNH different from other Development Models?

The idea of happiness engrossed in GNH is distinct from the western understanding of the term, ‘happiness.‘ The monarch has put it aptly:

“We have now clearly distinguished the ‘happiness’ in GNH from the fleeting, pleasurable ‘feel good’ moods so often associated with that term. We know that true abiding happiness cannot exist while others suffer, and comes only from serving others, living in harmony with nature, and realizing our innate wisdom and the true and brilliant nature of our own minds”

community and cultureUnlike the other development models, GNH is more comprehensive and has a holistic approach to development by having incorporated the innovative dimensions like Psychological well-being, Community Vitality, Time Use and Cultural Diversity & Resilience otherwise undermined in the other policy making frameworks. So this makes GNH a more realistic measure of progress which ensures a consistent alignment between what an individual aspires from development and what the Government does in the name of development.

The GNH paradigm concludes that economic growth is not an end in itself but rather a means to achieve more important ends – happiness.

Other initiatives, particularly in the West, revolve around plugging the inherent flaws in use of the GDP as a measure of progress. For instance, the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) takes into account over 20 things ignored by the GDP. It differentiates economic transactions that add to well-being from those which diminish it. It includes estimates of the economic contribution of various social and environmental factors which the GDP doesn’t see. Analysis of the historical data indicates that the economic growth in the US has been practically stagnant since the 1970s.

The Happy Planet Index (HPI) is another initiative published since 2006 by the New Economics Foundation. It is similar to other quality of life indices, like the UN-developed Human Development Index (HDI), which considers health and education. However, the HPI also highlights the value of natural resources which is a major shortcoming of the GDP.

Other examples include Better Life Index (OECD), Beyond GDP Initiative (EU), and the Canadian Index of Wellbeing.

None of these can be really called holistic because they all revolve around economy and material development. No wonder, the Western mind is uncomfortable dealing with non-material well-being of people; it is more comfortable with material quantification in absolute numbers. Ironically, by nature human well-being and happiness is a complex subject that can’t be described adequately in simple monetary numbers.

GNH Initiatives Outside Bhutan

For Bhutan, the GNH Commission has identified the nine domains which form the GNH framework, as the core elements that would ultimately determine the happiness of the Bhutanese people by creating enabling conditions around them (multidimensional approach). Likewise other countries could identify their own ‘domains’ and develop indicators for happiness accordingly based on their culture context, social fabric etc; therefore the GNH ‘framework’ can be easily adopted in other countries.

For instance, Mexico has developed Genuine Progress Index (GPI) based on the same approach (www.atlantic.org) and other countries like the Canada, United Kingdom, France, Brazil, and Croatia have added measures of citizen happiness to their official national statistics. The U.S. government is also considering adopting some measure of people’s happiness as well.

What can India do with GNH Framework?

well being sIndia being a country with spiritual roots where people still adore beauty of mind rather than muscle power, the non-material dimensions of GNH – Psychological well-being, Community Vitality, Time Use and Cultural Diversity & Resilience – have a direct relevance. After all well-being and happiness are subjective experience; material facilities and surroundings may only create a conducive environment to enjoy satisfaction and happiness. In fact, all material development must promote some mental/emotional experience of enhanced well-being – else they are useless. Observation from around the world suggests that opportunities for wellbeing, life satisfaction and happiness are greatly enhanced when people:

  • Live in safe neighborhoods where they can trust their neighbors rather than in high crime areas where they are afraid to come out on the streets at night;
  • Have ample economic (job) security to provide the necessities of life to their families rather than live in poverty with the constant stress and uncertainty of acquiring food, shelter and clothing;
  • Are healthy rather than physically or mentally sick or disabled;
  • Have clean air to breathe, safe water to drink, green spaces for recre­ation, and healthy natural resources rather than live as “environmental refugees” in a world of depleted and degraded resources;
  • Are knowledgeable rather than ignorant;
  • Have strong social networks and a sense of belonging to culture, community and nature;
  • Have sufficient leisure time to indulge in yoga and meditation for good mental/physical health;
  • Have freedom to participate in the political and democratic processes;
  • Have good, efficient, accountable and transparent government.

The GNH paradigm can provide the necessary conditions to enable people to pursue their potential far beyond the material acquisitiveness of the current (GDP growth) paradigm.

India must seriously consider putting into practice a framework similar to Bhutan’s GNH ideology. Fortunately, today India has a dynamic leadership of Modi which has the capacity to make things happen. All it has to do is to get rid of the follow-West mindset nurtured by the brown British of Congress Party since 1947.

Exploring Further

Redefining Development: From Mere “GDP Growth” to Holistic Development
Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness (GNP):  A Sane Idea That Could Change The World
Poverty is Multidimensional, So should be Development

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Development: GDP Growth Alone can Never Eliminate Poverty

The World is Blindly Chasing GDP Growth, as Development

The time has never been more opportune to reorient the goal of development towards genuine human happiness and well-being of all life. – Jigmi Y. Thirley, Bhutan

Schumacher - substance of man‘Precarious’ is the word that accurately describes the current status of our planet and its societies. Yet, countries across the world are running their affairs in the business-as-usual approach – for all of them, except Bhutan, development means economic growth described in terms of the gross domestic product (GDP). When we look around all we see is severe pressure on natural resources, eco­logical, societal and ecosystem degradation, potentially catastrophic climate change, excessive consumption of the affluent and extreme poverty on the other end, and growing inequalities both between and within nations. In fact, high poverty and unemployment, by nature, subsidize the business activities of the rich through low wages (usefulness of the poor). Underlying all these crises is the lack of a holistic view of development that would focus on the real well-being of all people and offer them meaningful happiness.

One really wonders: if human life is multidimensional why the hell we are stuck chasing GDP growth year after year in the name of progress or development? What is stopping us to think why we are consuming far too much natural resources than their replenishment rate?

It is Silly to Equate GDP Growth with Development

GDP grows by bad thingsSince GDP is a pure economic number and not an indicator of wellbeing, it cannot provide effective policy-making information. Simon Kuznets, a Nobel Prize winning econo­mist and an architect of GDP, noted that in order to assess the welfare of a nation it is necessary to ask not how much the economy is growing, but what is growing.

The development paradigm relies solely on unrestrained economic growth and GDP as the central measure of progress. The GDP when used as the central measure of progress in the current growth-based paradigm has serious limitations. GDP only meas­ures and aggregates marketed economic activity and does not therefore distinguish between those activities that promote well-being and those that degrade wellbeing. For example, an oil spill increases GDP because money is spent cleaning it up, although it obviously goes against society’s wellbeing. Similarly more crime, more sickness, more war, more pollution, more fires, storms and pestilence can all make GDP grow because they can increase marketed activity in the economy. Ironically, the very depletion and degradation of our precious natural assets to feed market demand frequently shows up as economic gain.

GDP also leaves out important and useful activities that enhance wellbeing but are outside the market. For example, the unpaid work of parenting does not show up as economic activity or GDP growth. But if the parents decide to hire someone for childcare, the GDP increases. Similarly, voluntary work appears nowhere in the GDP, though it contributes to society and the economy, and strengthens democracy through civic engagement.

Therefore, instead of relying solely on undifferentiated income growth as its basis, meaningful prosperity in the new paradigm must directly focus on people and what they require to make their lives worthwhile. It must go beyond material concerns and also deal with intangible dimensions such as the sense of identity, strong social networks, and the ability to participate meaningfully in society.

Poverty can’t be Eliminated in the Current Development Paradigm

GDP cant measure well beingThe world is still unacceptably divided between rich and poor. Around 1 billion people still remain in extreme poverty (income $1.25 or less a day) and there is severe disparity in access to basic services between rural and urban areas. We live in a world of growing inequality; over 80 percent of the global population lives in countries with widening income gap. Inequality damages the social fabric of the whole society – the effects are biggest among those lower on the social ladder, but the disadvantages of greater inequality are experienced to a lesser extent even among the better off. Indeed, countries with bigger income differences between rich and poor seem to suffer a general social dysfunction leading to political instability and conflicts. They are less cohesive, com­munity life is weaker, and people trust each other less. This is also causing international migration.

Poverty alleviation alone, however meritorious and noble, cannot effectively re­duce the widening inequities between and within nations. Poverty is only one side of the present equation of unfair wealth distribution. At the other extreme is the excessive consumption of the rich that is rapidly depleting resources, generating massive wastes, spewing carbon into the atmosphere, and destroying the ecological life support systems that sustain us. The rich are the bigger burden on nature’s resources than the poor; for instance

  • 20% of the world’s people presently consume 86% of its goods while the poorest 20% consume just 1.3 %.
  • The richest 20% use 58% of all energy and the poorest 20% less than 4%.
  • 20% produce 63% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions while the poorest 20% produce only 2%.
  • 12% of the world’s people use 85% of the world’s water.
  • The richest 20% consume 84% of all paper and have 87% of all ve­hicles, while the poorest 20 % use less than 1 % of each.

Given the reality of living on a finite planet with limited resources, we cannot alleviate the extreme poverty of a billion human beings without curbing the excessive consumption of the billion at the other end of the income spectrum. Put another way, we now need a billion people to live in extreme poverty if we are to main­tain the lifestyles of the affluent. Humanity is already consuming resources and generating waste 60 per­cent faster than the planet can regenerate, absorb and sustain.

So, what is needed? A Holistic Development Model on the line of Bhutan’s gross national happiness. Let’s hope that Bhutan’s proposal on a ‘New Development Paradigm’ to the UN in 2013 would have some meaningful impact on the post 2015 international development agenda.

Explore Further

Redefining Development: From Mere GDP Growth to Holistic Development

Poverty is Multidimensional, So should be Development

Posted in Sustainable Development | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Global Warming and REDD+: Protect Forests But Ignore the Root Cause

Global Forest Cover

Rain forest

Rain forest

Forests are important not only for timber and paper; they also provide essential services—for example, they filter water, control water runoff, protect soil, regulate climate, cycle and store nutrients, and provide habitat for countless animal species and livelihood for about a billion people.

Industrialization has taken a heavy toll on the forests around the world. In the pre-industrial phase in the West, forests covered 5.9 billion hectares of the land area. Now it is down to slightly over 4 billion hectares – 31 % of the planet’s land surface (One hectare = 2.47 acres).

According to data from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, deforestation was at its highest rate in the 1990s, when each year the world lost on average 16 million hectares of forest—roughly the size of the state of Michigan. However, in some places the forest area expanded, either through planting or natural processes, bringing the global net loss of forest to 8.3 million hectares per year.  In the first decade of this century, the rate of deforestation was slightly lower, but still, a disturbingly high 13 million hectares were destroyed annually. As forest expansion remained stable, the global net forest loss between 2000 and 2010 was 5.2 million hectares per year.




These deforestation rates, however, do not capture the full damage done to the global forest-cover. Things like selective logging, road construction, climate change and other activities compromises the health of remaining forests. Therefore, each year the world has less forested area, and the forests that remain are of lower quality. Likewise, replacing naturally grown old forests with a monoculture of an exotic species provides the green cover but greatly reduces biodiversity.

Forests have always been largely threatened by land clearing for agriculture and pasture and by harvesting wood for fuel or industrial uses. In Latin America, Brazil lost 55 million hectares since 1990; between 2000 and 2010, it lost 2.6 million hectares of forest each year, more than any other country. However, lately there is reduction in the rate of deforestation; Brazil aims to cut deforestation rate by 80% by 2020 compared with the 1996–2005 average. But rising beef, corn, and soybean prices are likely to pressure the government to weaken its forest protection, further threatening the world’s largest rainforest.

Along with two other South American countries, Bolivia and Venezuela which also felled large areas of trees, South America region showed the largest forest loss between 2000 and 2010 – losing 40 million hectares of forest.

Africa also suffers from extensive deforestation – it lost around 34 million hectares between 2000 and 2010. The main drivers of deforestation are firewood harvesting charcoal production.

The palm oil production in Indonesia is another large driver of deforestation; the country accounts for almost half of the global output of palm oil. Forest tracts are logged or burned for planting palm trees, which threatens the remaining forests. On the one hand, Indonesia wants to double the palm oil production from the 2009 level and on the other; it wants to protect the forests too. In order to device ways to achieve the twin goals, Indonesia instituted a two-year moratorium in May 2011 on new licenses to convert primary forests to oil palm or other uses. The effectiveness of this ban remains yet to be seen.

The disastrous flooding in 1998 made China think about its green cover; it realized the importance of forest cover for flood control and soil protection. It banned logging in the key river basins and started planting trees at a brisk rate. However, it imports timber that drives deforestation in other countries. For instance, Indonesia became a prime target; is 82% area was covered by forests in 1960s, today less than half of that is under forests.

Canada faced wildfires and insect outbreaks at the turn of the century, leading to massive deforestation and release of CO2.

The case of the United States and EU is different. They added net forest cover but contribute to deforestation as an importer of forest products. In 2011, the US imported forest products worth $20 billion and the EU $110 billion.

On the other side of the globe, Australia’s persistent drought from 2002 to 2010 was double trouble for its forests: the drought restricted forest growth and simultaneously increased fire risk. Wildfires, stoked by extended drought and high temperatures, burned millions of hectares of forest in Australia. Just one mega-fire on February 7, 2009, now known as “Black Saturday,” burned over 400,000 hectares.

But it must be emphasized that not all trees, nor all forests, are alike. Trees added in industrial countries in temperate zones, with different ecological attributes, cannot replace the bounty of biodiversity lost in tropical forests of developing countries. Therefore, protection of tropical forests has more intrinsic value for the global emission control.

No doubt the protection of forests is a wonderful thing, but now we must also start to focus on restricting demand of paper, timber and other forest products. But that’s a lifestyle issue, particularly for the rich countries, which is a hard nut to crack.

Global Warming is Already Here

In September 2013, the IPCC published Volume 1 of its 5th scientific report on climate change. It clearly acknowledged that human activities are the reason behind the global warming – the past three decades have been all warmer than any decade since 1850. Not only that, each of these three decades was warmer than the previous decade.

It also said that in order to have a 66% chance of keeping global warming below 2°C, the carbon budget is 800 gigatonnes. About two-thirds of this carbon budget has already been used up in fossil fuel emissions. What it means is that the longer the world takes to cut down GHG emissions, the tougher actions will be needed in the future which means harsher impact on the economies. [Meanwhile the CO2 level has recently crossed 400 ppm mark for the first time in April 2014, in the human history. Of course, world leaders will continue to pay lip-service about urgent concrete steps to curtail CO2 emission.]

So, the message is clear: the current global climatic disorder is due to global warming.

Even the business world in increasingly factoring-in the effects of adverse climatic events in their future planning. Lot of companies are worried that extreme precipitation and extreme temperatures will negatively impact their operations.

Global Efforts to reduce Deforestation

forests not junglesThe Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that deforestation represents a net 10 per cent of the climate challenge. Loss of green cover is the single largest source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emission. Most tropical countries are aiming for zero deforestation by 2020.

Global initiatives to preserve forest cover, particularly in the developing countries is popularly termed, REDD – Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation. The basic concept is simple: reward developing countries to keep their forests instead of cutting them down. Following negotiations the Bali Action Plan came to be known as REDD+. It recognizes the role of “conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries” going beyond deforestation and forest degradation and expanding carbon stock.

Norway is perhaps the leading donor nation that has rewarded Latin American nations like Brazil for their efforts.

While the idea of helping poor countries with forests to preserve them sounds good and benevolent. But people well familiar with international politics are not convinced that REDD+ can offer any meaningful solution.

First, it only allows rich countries to continue with their business-as-usual approach and their emission continues. In fact, many see it as a license to continue to pollute. Then there are people who are not comfortable with the idea of carbon trading. They see it as commodification of forests as “bundles of carbon sticks.” It automatically sidelines other important functions forests perform in enriching biodiversity and soil quality. The well-being of about 1 billion people dependent on forests also becomes secondary, even if something is planned for them.

The Root Cause of Global Warming

At the root of excessive greenhouse gas emission lays the unbridled excessive and wasteful consumption based lifestyle promoted by the West. Economics overshadow every other dimension of human life, even family and relations. In a lifestyle governed by money and profits the GDP growth has become the prime yardstick of progress. In industrial economies, the growth in GDP has to happen quarter-after-quarter and year-after-year; else the shadow recession begins to caste ominous signs.

The gross domestic product (GDP) is a pure economic number – total market value of final goods and services produced during a specified time interval. It includes all economic transactions regardless of whether they add value to people’s lives or not and whether they are harmful for the society and environment.

Consider, for example, that polluting activities increase the GDP because of the expenses involved in the clean up. Crimes boost the GDP due to expenses on police, security, jails, are legal procedures. Wars and conflicts increase expenditure on weapons; it is certainly not a healthy expenditure.

As people tend to become self reliant, the GDP goes down. If a community decides to grow fruits and vegetables together and share or if community members decide to help each other at times of financial crisis, the GDP decreases. Likewise, if you decide ride a bike in place of car you save on all expenses related to maintenance and running of the car. But you hurt the GDP. Yet another aspect of GDP: if you buy low quality products with shorter lives, you will be buying frequently and boost the GDP. But if you are wise and select high quality goods that last much longer, you will not a frequent spender; the GDP suffers. Thus, wasteful and inefficient products promote GDP.

Moreover, there are many things that never enter GDP even if they are important for people’s well-being. All household and volunteer work is ignored, so is the contribution of nature in the form of resources.

Yet, when people see it as the primary indicator of economic health and people’s well-being, reality gets blurred and the dialog goes in the wrong directions. The GDP was never intended for this role.

Combined with the capitalism as practiced today which is shareholder focused, the economic activities have become narrowly focused on private gains for a few, with capital, to the exclusion of all – employees, society and environment. Until we address this money and greed based monoculture which is the basic driving force behind global warming, all efforts will remain cosmetic and superficial.

What is the Remedy of Global Climatic Disorder

We need to move away from the GDP based activities and focus it on real well-being of people. As Nobel laureate Amartya Sen puts it: The goal of development is to enrich people’s life, not enrichment of economy which is merely an important tool to achieve it. The Tiny Himalayan kingdom Bhutan actually does what the rest of the so-called “developed” world is just talking about. Bhutan follows the concept of what it called the “gross national happiness (GNH)” which is a holistic approach to development – it considers well-being of culture, community, environment as well as economy.

It has already influenced the UN and leading authorities on sustainable development. As the global debates on global warming continue endlessly, the question is: why other nations shy away from following Bhutan when its model is grounded on solid principles of peaceful coexistence.

Global Warming: A REDD Solution to Green Problem!

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Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan: We Should Also See The Positive Side of SSA

Overview of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA)

Let's go to School

Let’s go to School

Pioneered by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) is Indian government’s flagship program to provide universal access to elementary education for children 6-14 years old “in a time bound manner” as mandated by the 86th amendment to the Constitution of India. It was launched in 2001 with an initial outlay of Rs 7000 crore. The scheme aims to improve enrolment, retention, and the quality of education to enable children to achieve grade appropriate levels of learning. It also aims to eliminate gender differences and gaps between different social categories. At the time of SSA’s launch in 2001 there were 3.40 crore out-of-school children between the ages of 6-14. Four years after the launch of SSA with more than 85 percent of the funds utilized, only 1.35 crore children remained out-of-school – a reduction of 60 percent in 4 years (CAG 15 of 2006). It went down to 81.5 lakh in 2009 and currently over 96% children are enrolled.

Should we not rejoice at it? Without SSA a lot kids would have never entered school boundary.

The SSA was Needed to Universalize Elementary Education

The SSA was initiated in 2001 following recommendations from the state education ministers’ conference in 1998. And soon the 86th amendment made free and compulsory Education to the Children of 6-14 years age group, a Fundamental Right. However, it took 7 years for the parliament to pass the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act that operationalized the provision of free and compulsory education. When launched, the SSA aimed to achieve 100% enrolment in a mission mode by 2010. Newer targets have been set after 2010 to comply with RTE provisions. Now SSA is the main vehicle to implement the Right to Education Act (RTE). [detailed report on RTE]

The RTE provides a justiciable legal framework that entitles all children between the ages of 6-14 years free and compulsory admission, attendance and completion of elementary education. It provides the children right to education which is equitable and based on principles of equity and non-discrimination. Additionally, it provides them right to an education that is free from fear, stress and anxiety.

Functional Aspects of the SSA

Sending daughter to school

Sending daughter to school

The costs for SSA are shared by the centre and states. In 2004-05, the central government imposed an education cess of 2 percent on all taxes to mobilize additional funds for SSA and the Mid Day Meal Scheme. In 2008-09, this surcharge was increased to 3 percent. It is being implemented in partnership with State Governments to cover the entire country and addresses the needs of 192 million children in 1.1 million habitations.

The SSA is an attempt to provide an opportunity for improving human capabilities of all children, through provision of community-owned quality education in a mission mode. It aims to bridge social, regional and gender gaps, with the active participation of the community in the management of schools. Thus, it seeks effective involvement of the Panchayati Raj Institutions, School Management Committees, Village and Urban Slum level Education Committees, Parents’ Teachers’ Associations, Mother Teacher Associations, Tribal Autonomous Councils and other grass root level structures in the management of elementary schools.

The program seeks to open new schools in those areas which do not have schooling facilities and strengthen existing school infrastructure through provision of additional class rooms, toilets, drinking water, maintenance grant and school improvement grants. Existing schools with inadequate teacher strength are provided with additional teachers, while the capacity of existing teachers is being strengthened by extensive training, grants for developing teaching-learning materials and strengthening of the academic support structure at a cluster, block and district level. The SSA also seeks to provide quality elementary education including life skills and computer education to bridge the digital divide. SSA has a special focus on girl’s education and children with special needs.

Current Status of SSA

The biggest challenge thus far has been to set up enough infrastructures across the country. Being a pan India activity of its own kind, the problems have been numerous. But ultimately things appear to improve and settle down year by year. In order to gauge progress, there are two very useful measures: One is the education development index (EDI) provides useful insight into how things have been progressing in different states. It also offers a relative picture of the current status across states.

Released on Dec 6, 2013 the latest annual Education Development Index (EDI) for 2012-13, calculated by the National University of Educational Planning and Administration (NUEPA) on the basis of mammoth District Information of School Education (DISE) data, presents a comprehensive picture of the elementary education in India. It mainly pointed to the north-south divide in terms achievements and quality. The southern states are simply outpacing the north.

The other is the annual state of education report (ASER) from watchdog NGO Pratham since 2005. ASER is the largest annual household survey of children in rural India that focuses on the status of schooling and basic learning. Facilitated by Pratham, ASER 2013 reached 550 districts and close to 16,000 villages, 3.3 lakh households and 6 lakh children in the age group 3-16. Since the implementation of the RTE Act in 2010, school visits in ASER have included indicators of compliance with those norms and standards specified in the Right to Education Act that are easy to measure. In 2013, ASER visited 14,724 government schools.

The ASER report reveals two major findings: The worsening of learning level and preference for private schools or private tuitions in the rural India.

Should We See Only the Dark Side?

Although the picture presented by the above two studies and others done at more regional levels do not portray a very good picture of the realities of the SSA, but taking a balanced and pragmatic approach should be the best choice.

On the positive side, enrolments in the 6-14 age group have increased everywhere, for both boys and girls, and drinking water and toilet facilities in schools have risen too, though not in line with enrolments. On the flip side, the actual attendance nowhere matched the enrollment levels. States like West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Manipur, Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand showed attendance figures of less that 60 per cent.

Learning quality is certainly better in the private schools: On checking Class III children’s ability to read a Class I textbook, only 33% children from government schools could do that compared with 60% children from the private schools.

Such a difference could reflect the worsening performance of government schools or the improving performance of private schools, or both. But at least a part of it could also reflect merely a transfer of the better achieving students from government to private schools, thus lowering average achievement levels for the former and increasing them for the latter. This is corroborated by the ASER finding that private school enrolments have risen from 19 per cent of total enrolments in 2006 to 29% in 2013. Further, children in private schools come from relatively better off families; thus there better performance is not a surprise compared with government school children.

While no one can deny that efforts to improve government school performance should continue, but for optimists a child in school is better off than a child outside school. But the question arises: Does just being in school helps students in any way?

Just Being in School Helps!

Girls Education is highly empowering

Girls Education is highly empowering

Even if we think about performance as pure literacy, there are findings from other countries as poor as India – Mexico, Venezuela, Nepal and Zambia – that adult women who have been to school in childhood display impressive literacy skills, suggesting that literacy improves with time and continues to improve even after the child has left school. And this seems to correlate strongly with the number of years spent in school, even for very few years of school attendance.

There is universal finding that women with just a few years of schooling experience more favorable outcomes on a variety of things — infant and child mortalities and illnesses, children’s cognitive development, family nutritional levels — than women with no schooling. Every additional year of maternal schooling, after the first one year of schooling, is associated with a 2-5% fall in the risk of a child death).

What it implies is that mere presence in the school, regardless of the quality of teaching, is rewarding in indirect ways! This indirect learning appears to promote the sense of self-discipline, obedience of authority and time-routine and ability to interact with peers and non-peers. Such attributes don’t show up in the form of academic “output” but they go a long way towards increasing one’s ability to negotiate the world outside home boundaries.

No wonder primary schooling is also associated with the largest rises in economic productivity in developing countries.

In the longer run, of course we want the school to be a platform for education rather than just the producer of a disciplined and obedient workforce and responsible and efficient parenthood. And so it is right that we may be dismayed at the poor showing of most of our schools in the ASER surveys. But in the meantime, sending our children to and keeping them even in our poor performing schools is one small step towards giving them and society some of the social and economic spin-offs that are not to be scoffed at.

You may like to read the detailed PDF report: SSA Report 2014

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So Much Poverty in India But the National Media is Blind towards it?

Indian Media

Poverty is not "sellable" on commercial TV channels

Poverty is not “sellable” on commercial TV channels

Gone are the days when intellectuals used to debate issues of social interest on mainstream national media. This used to be the DoorDarshan (DD) news channel. Now it has been relegated to the sideline of the commercial TV channels which have occupied the center – stage. If you want some intellectually stimulating stuff now you have to hunt for the DD News and Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha Channels. There are debates on different social topics which rarely grab attention of the commercial media channels. It is pleasant to see experts talking at length without interruption of commercials and the anchor is not hard-pressed for time. In contrast, if for some strange reasons the media channels pick up some serious topic the invited guests have hardly enough time to make their point. I find it really offending and a mockery of the social issues which concerns ordinary people’s life – much more than toilet soaps and beauty creams commercials.

In the liberalization regime ushered in by Mr Manmohan Singh in the 1990s, media is no longer a place for serious discussions. It is more like a bazaar where you make noise and grab attention, in the narrow time-space unfilled by advertisements. Except for the three state owned channels mentioned above, you open any other channel and expect the same 1 or 2 news items repeated endlessly the whole day, as if nothing else is happening anywhere in the city, country or the world.

A journalist friend of mine openly admitted that serious issues like plight of the poor, dalits, or tribals and vital issues like police, judicial or electoral reforms etc are not as “sellable” as rapes, gang-rapes, murder, kidnapping of high profile people, terror attacks, celebrity gimmicks, politicians’ silly remarks and so on. Media people have the “right” to decide what they want to air or discuss on their channels and what they would ignore. Sure, sometimes our reporters do run to cover the incidences of rape and atrocities on backward caste women, not for any sense of justice or concern for the poor but because that’s perfectly “sellable” news!

Certainly, we need to fight with the media if wants to get confined in the prison of TRP and strange self-serving interpretations of what media should be and do. Here is the snapshot of reality our poor brothers and sisters face everyday which the media finds uninteresting.

The Super Poor India!

poverty violenceIndia, the largest democracy of 1.25 billion people, occupies 2.4% of world’s land area but supports about 18% global population. It is also the biggest center of poverty in the world – it is both widespread and intense. As per the latest claim of India’s Planning Commission in July 2013, there are about 269 million (or 22 percent) people under the poverty line, as against 407 million in 2004-05.

The more comprehensive Multidimensional Poverty Index 2013 report of UK based Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) estimates poverty at 53.7 percent (or 650 million poor people) in India. This is more realistic. While no one believes the official poverty data of the Indian government, it is fair to say that about 400 – 600 million people are poor in India. While there can never be agreement on poverty numbers, compare these numbers with the European Union and US populations of 500 million and 310 million, respectively. These are huge numbers, by any standard.

India holds the distinction of having the most number of poor of the world – a super poor nation! Consequently, South Asia has become the world’s biggest center of extreme poverty. On the World Bank’s extreme poverty line of 1.25 dollars a day, there are roughly 500 million extreme poor in South Asia – most of it in India. The only other comparable pocket of poverty is the sub Saharan Africa, with 400 million people in extreme poverty.

Nature of Indian Poverty

The Global Hunger Index (GHI) of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in association with an Irish group, Concern Worldwide and a German group, Welthungerhilfe is a good tool to analyze the nature of Indian poverty. It is published since 2006 and it ranks countries based on three equally weighted indicators: (1) proportion of undernourished population, (2) proportion of underweight children under five, and (3) mortality rate of children under the age of five.

The index number varies between 0 and 100. The higher the score, the worst the food/nourishment related poverty of the country. The GHI puts countries in the 5 categories based on their index score: Low hunger (score below 5), moderate hunger (5 – 10), serious hunger (10 – 20), alarming hunger (20 – 30) and extremely alarming hunger (above 30). India’s hunger index value was 22.9 in 2012, placing it in the “alarming hunger” category. Even the best performing state, Punjab, falls in the “serious hunger” category with a GHI score of 13.6 and the tail end is occupied by MP with GHI of 30.9.

An analysis of past data reveals that the situation has been more or less same for last 20 years. Therefore, the economic reforms and liberalization which started since 1990 did practically nothing for the poor. Clearly, it has been mere corporate-led GDP growth unaccompanied by development for the masses.

High Prevalence of Child Under-Nutrition

The major reason of India’s bad performance on GHI is high prevalence of underweight children. Since 1990 the proportion of underweight children has only fallen from 60% to 43% and the under-five mortality rate from 12% to 7%. Acknowledging the level of high food insecurity, the Indian parliament has recently enacted the National Food Security Act covering two-third of the population, about 800 people. This should make a significant difference in the levels of hunger and under-nutrition in the coming years, if implemented sincerely and politics doesn’t come in the way.

Despite improvements since 1990, because of large population India is still home to over 40% of the world’s underweight children (Pakistan 5 percent) and about a third stunted children (whose height is low for their age). Even the neighboring Nepal and Sri Lanka as well as Sudan and North Korea did better than India. In the neighboring region, only Bangladesh (ranked 68th) has comparable high levels of underweight children. No wonder, South Asia has the highest level of hunger comparable only with the sub-Saharan Africa.

The under-nutrition among children is a serious issue, particularly in infants before 2 years of age, because it has long term consequences as they grow up. Children under 2 who do not receive adequate nutrition have increased risks to experiencing lifelong damage, including poor physical and cognitive development, poor health, and even early death. However, the under nourishment or malnutrition after 2 is reversible.

The bad nutrition situation in India is a sign of many things wrong with the Indian society – high social inequality, high population, weak gender status of women’s, low female literacy, poor healthcare awareness, poor sanitation, etc. Ultimately, all these factors are reflected in poor child nutrition. India ranks even poorer than several countries in sub-Saharan Africa, such as Cameroon, Kenya, Nigeria, and Sudan, even though their per capita incomes are much lower. This clearly reveals the irrationality of using income or per capita GDP as a measure of progress.

I am really saddened that mainstream commercial media feels no sense of responsibility to take proactive steps and turn poverty into a hot national issue. It may mention GDP but not GHI or MPI that directly concern the poor.

Exploring Further

8 Reasons Why India is So Poor
Is India a Poor Country or an Emerging Superpower?

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Kerala: A Unique Place on the Planet!

Kerala: God's own Country!

Kerala: God’s own Country!

Kerala, a tiny southern state of India, has drawn both international and national attention due to its impressive performance in social development and demographic transition. Its human development indicators are the best in India and compare with some of the developed countries. Its achievement of demographic transition is rather unique and has earned worldwide accolades for Kerala. Its population development model is ideal for developing countries who are struggling with issues of population and poverty. Kerala amazes Western demographers because it achieved demographic transition despite poor economic development. It is nothing surprising because for a Western mind everything must correlate with economic development or money!

Perhaps the most distinguishing feature of Kerala is the Female/Male sex ratio: According to the 2011 census, Kerala has 1084 females (up by 26 since 2001) for 1000 male against the national average of 940. In past hundred years, this has steadily improved. Even the most economically advanced states like Delhi, Punjab, Gujarat and Maharashtra don’t match Kerala in female-friendliness and women empowerment.

In the past decade, all districts of Kerala have shown improvement in the sex ratio. As per the 2011 data, the top 3 districts are Kannur (1133), Pathanamthitta (1129) and Kollam (1113) and even the worst districts have better figures: Idukki (1006), Ernakulam (1028), and Wayanad (1035).

Kerala has been setting an example of potentials of human development over last several decades. This beautiful tiny state has emerged far ahead in human development indicators, leaving behind even the economically advanced states like Gujarat and Maharashtra. It also has the lowest rate of population growth, achieved without coercive sterilization policies of family planning ministry. Kerala has the lowest crude death rate (around 6 per thousand), lowest infant mortality (around 10 per 1000 live births), highest life expectancy at birth (75 years) and highest male literacy rate (94 percent) as well as female literacy (92%) compared with the national average of 74% (Male 82%, female 65.5%).

The state is also ahead in the demographic transition curve. It is already nearing zero-population growth and is aging like Japan and Europe.

Many experts wonder: What is Kerala’s model of development?

The answer is simple: Kerala focused on its people and improving their quality of life, a human development model. Although this is pure commonsense but is totally opposite to Western lifestyle which puts GDP growth at the center-stage and then tries to make sense of everything. It is surprising if you talk of putting people at the center of development and make economy subordinate. In the Western world, economy and technology are “developed”, not people who are mere tools to achieve the goal. They are uncomfortable if the spot light is focused on people.

People like Nobel laureate Amartya Sen always remind that people’s well-being depends on many things other than economic growth. While financial strength is always good but things like family and community relations, cultural and spiritual practices, freedom to participate and influence social and political processes, easy access to quality health services, freedom from all forms of insecurities, clean environment, are sufficient leisure time are also important. In this aspect, the tiny Himalayan kingdom Bhutan shows the real path to development. Bhutan is the only country in the world that does not measure its progress by GDP numbers; instead, it uses the holistic ideology of gross national happiness (GNH). It gives equal importance to Sustainable and Equitable Socio-Economic Development, Preservation of Culture, Preservation and Enhancement of Environment, and Good Governance.

Kerala’s people development model has amazed development experts around the world. It offers the right model of other developing countries to follow.

Continue reading: Population Development: What Kerala can teach India and China

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