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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Will Bhutan Inspire The World To Follow Sustainable Development?

Bhutan Measures Gross National Happiness (GNH), Not GDP !

In the tiny Himalayan Kingdom Bhutan progress is measured in terms of what it calls the Gross National Happiness (GNH), not by the Gross National Product (GDP) popular worldwide. Way back in early 1970s its king rejected the concept of GDP and declared that the Gross National Happiness (GNH) is more important than GDP. Since then the GNH has been the guiding philosophy of Bhutan’s governance.

GNH and bhutan constitutionIn order to help the policymakers frame policies strictly within the guiding principles of GNH the Center for Bhutan Studies (CBS) was established in 1999. The aim behind this autonomous research center was to promote and deepen the understanding of Gross National Happiness. The Center took up the task of quantification of the progress and spelled out 9 domains of human well-being which would be probed through 33 indicators. The final calculation yield the Gross National Happiness Index which is a number between 0 and 1.

The nine domains of GNH are:

  1. Health
  2. Education
  3. Psychological well-being
  4. Time use
  5. Community Vitality
  6. Cultural diversity and resilience
  7. Ecological diversity and resilience
  8. Living standard
  9. Good governance

These nine domains are grouped as four broader pillars of GNH. The pillars are 1. Sustainable and Equitable Socio-Economic Development, 2. Conservation of the Environment, 3. Preservation and Promotion of Culture and 4. Good Governance. These pillars embody national and local values, aesthetics, and spiritual traditions.

Under a new Constitution adopted in 2008 all government programs — from agriculture to tourism to foreign trade — must be framed not for economic benefits they may offer but for the happiness they produce.

As Bhutan’s prime minister has explained, the goal is not happiness itself which is a concept each person must define for himself. Rather, the government aims to create the conditions for “the pursuit of gross national happiness.”

The Idea of Gross National Happiness is Spreading Across the World

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 is posing a serious threat to the existence of humanity.

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.

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

Recently, Canada, France and Britain 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.

Read in more detail: Bhutan’s GNH – A Sane Idea That Could Change The World

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The Vicious Cycle of Child Marriages And Poverty

highest child marriage countriesPoor Countries Have High Rates Of Child Marriages

Every year, 13.5 million girls around the world marry before their 18th birthday. Almost half of all girls in the poor countries are married before turning 18 and 11% are married even before 15 years of age. Due to its high population, most of child marriages take place in South Asia (46%) and in sub-Saharan Africa (41%). The percentage of boys in these regions, married between the ages of 15 and 19 years is much lower, at less than 5%. So, gender bias is clearly built in and it becomes an issue of marriage of girl children.

The highest rates of child marriages are found in Niger (75%), Chad, Central African Republic, and Bangladesh (66%), in that order. But due to rather high populations, India and Bangladesh become the significant. The rate of child marriages is about 47% in India, but due to its huge population base it accounts for around 40% of global child marriages.

What Makes Poor Countries Havens Of Child Marriages

Poor societies are marked by low levels of development including schooling, healthcare and employment and high birth and death rates. Many of these countries are disaster prone or torn by civil conflicts which further aggravate poverty – in fact, they are extremely poor and human development indexes (HDI) are the lowest in the world. Multiple and drawn-out shocks erode people’s capacity to cope. Unreliable economic conditions and absence of rule of law create fear and panic that leave children particularly exposed to abuse and exploitation. In these societies, the demography is such that children and youth make up a large proportion of the population, often over 50%.

‘When the poverty here gets worse, we see an increase in young girls getting married.’A Woman in Somaliland

Girls living in these societies are highly vulnerable because existing social networks and legal mechanisms are either very weak or disrupted. Early marriage of girls is seen as a family protective response to the crisis. Fear of sexual violence and pre-marital pregnancies leading to family shame and dishonor, homelessness and starvation force parents to marry away girls. It is a cruel irony that the already existing extreme poverty exacerbates the already negative health and psycho-social consequences of early marriage. It perpetuates the vicious cycle of extreme poverty feeding its own root causes!

Poverty coupled with social customs, weak status of women and lack of alternative opportunities for girls (especially education) create conducive atmosphere to marry away girls, otherwise seen as financial liabilities.

Child Marriage Is Bad, Always Bad

Early marriages disrupt the normal growth to adulthood and a violation of children’s rights.

However, child marriage is not just a one-time violation of human rights; it triggers a range of violations that continue throughout a girl’s life. It endangers the survival and well-being of adolescent girls by exposing them to the dangers of physical and sexual violence as well as to early, unplanned and frequent pregnancies. Further, marriage puts an end to girl’s educational opportunities and thus puts her into a lifetime of economic dependence. Therefore, it is simply wrong to force matrimony upon girls who aren’t old enough to understand the implications of marriage.

The international development community recognizes the adverse impact of early marriage on the ‘economic, legal, health and social status of women and girls’ as well as ‘the development of the community as a whole’. The UN plans to end all child marriages by 2030.

It is estimated that in India four million girls between the ages of 15-19 give birth every year.

child marriages high MMR IMRChild (Adolescent) Pregnancies Invite A Range of Medical Problems

Pregnancies at such early age are riddled with complications because the female body, though capable, is not yet ready for the rigors of childbirth. Such pregnancies can invite a host of medical problems such as anemia; pre-eclampsia – where women start passing protein in their urine, which is characterized by seizures and coma. This condition can also affect other vital organs like the kidneys, liver and brain; postpartum hemorrhage; and premature birth which can invite complications like neonatal mortality (child death within the first month), developmental disorders, respiratory complications, vision and heart-related problems; and low birth weight.

Girls In The Poor Countries

“A girl growing up in Chad today is more likely to die in childbirth than she is to attend school.”

The quality of life for a married girl is often extremely poor, particularly when she gets pregnant. Complications, such as obstructed labor, can lead to chronic disabilities including fistula. While such deaths and debilitating conditions are manageable if there is access to proper medical facilities. However, such services are very weak or non-existent in most fragile societies.

Gender discrimination compounds the problem further. Observers reveal that male staff is often so derogatory that patients decide to return home without any care at all. The states are too weak to enforce proper service. In rural areas of Bangladesh, community clinics often offer the only locally available health service, yet they are irregularly staffed and under-stocked, leaving girls with no alternative but to deliver babies unassisted or to walk long distances to the local hospital. Many die on the way.

Globally, perinatal deaths are 50% higher among babies born to mothers under the age of 20 than among those born to mothers aged over 20. Babies born to adolescent mothers are also more likely to be of low birth weight, with the risk of long-term consequences.

Increased Exposure To Sexual And Gender-Based Violence

Marriage exposes girls to all forms of abuses – and they often harbor the belief that husband is justified in beating or raping them. Girls generally lack the negotiating skills and knowledge of contraceptives and reproductive health issues – in effect, they lack control over when and how to have sex. As a result, reports show that married girls in East Africa are 75% more likely to have HIV than sexually active unmarried girls.

Although refusal of sex is a rare privilege, but it almost certainly invites beating by the husband. Abuses also come from men’s frustration from girl-wives inability to cope with household demands and expectations. Similarly, boys who were unprepared for the responsibilities of marriage and family life were reported to become increasingly aggressive towards their wives. Dowry violence is a recognized consequence of early marriage in South Asia.

Systemic gender inequalities and the treatment of girls as commodities means that girls may be married (false marriages) for trafficking. Bangladesh is a well known hotspot where influential people particularly from the Gulf come to take away girls as “wives.” Well organized groups operate to provide “all assistance” to the wealthy clients, from locating “brides” to travel documentation. Most end up is sex trade. Fears of such incidences also motivate parents to marry away their daughters as early as possible.

Natural Disasters Promote Violence Against Women and Girls

In Crisis, Girls Become “Dispensable”

There is substantial evidence from across the world to suggest that violence against women and girls increase in the immediate aftermath of conflict and natural disasters. Women and girls always suffer disproportionately in the post-conflict and post-disaster situations.

After the 2004 tsunami, forced child marriages and other forms of sexual violence increased in Indonesia. Families in refugee camps saw early marriage as the only protection for their daughters against the threat of physical abuse. In the aftermath of 2010 floods in Pakistan and the earthquake in Haiti, similar findings were reported by relief and rehabilitation workers. In the months following the cyclone Sidr in 2007 in Bangladesh, there was significant spurt in child marriages. The insecurity of camp life, combined with the lack of opportunities for girls to enter the protective school environment, meant that more adolescent girls were married.

The disaster doesn’t have to be acute; girls get victimized even in the drought conditions as is the case in Somaliland currently. With no chance of attending school, girls have to walk long distances to fetch water, firewood or to look after livestock in often hazardous and insecure areas. The fear of sexual assault is acute in these remote areas which forces the parents to marry their daughters for safety.


Early marriage creates vicious and intergenerational cycles of poverty. Girls’ education and women empowerment are the keys to eliminating girls’ marriages which sustain both poverty and high population growth. Patriarchy is the big hurdle along with social traditions which turn girls into brides. Laws alone can’t solve deep rooted ills in people’s thinking. Economic growth and strengthening education and medical infrastructure point to the right direction for a good future.

Read more details: Child Marriages in the Poor Countries

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Muhammad Yunus: How 27 Dollars Revolutionized The Anti-Poverty Movement!

Are The Poor Really Credit Unworthy?

The Poor are Not Credit Worthy

The Poor are Not Credit Worthy

Popular as “banker of the poor” Nobel Prize winner of 2006 Professor Muhammad Yunus has proved conclusively that microfinancing can be highly effective for lifting poor people out of poverty. His Grameen Bank (“village bank” in the Bangla language) initiative, which is now a popular name across the world, highlighted the effectiveness of using tiny loans to help the most destitute people on earth.

The formal banking sector has well-known allergy to giving credits to the poor. They judge a client based his “bankability” and “credit worthiness” before shelling out money – of course, after having “sufficient collaterals”! Giving loan to only those who are already well off and can pledge security is considered the “normal” prudence. No one can find fault with the logic – else the banking sector will go out of business if they start losing money.

This “prudence” automatically excludes the poor who lack sufficient income and assets to pledge as security for credits. Therefore, they have no option but to approach local money lenders who charge exorbitant interest and also keep whatever little assets the borrower has as security. More often than not, the poor find themselves in the debt trap and ends up worst off than when he got the credit.

In the mid 1970s, while working as Head of the Rural Economics Program at the University of Chittagong in Bangladesh, Professor Muhammad Yunus was conducting research to examine the possibility of designing a credit delivery system to take the banking services to the rural poor. He was disillusioned by the abstract theories of economics that failed to explain why so much abject poverty in Bangladesh.

The Power of Microcredit

The Power of Microcredit

How 27 Dollars Did Wonders to 42 Poor Women!

Determined to find practical solution, Professor Yunus was visiting nearby villages. In one village, named Jorba, he met a group of 42 women who made bamboo based items to sell. The women lacked funds to purchase the raw material. The local traders would arrange for the raw material bamboo and buy back the finished products at throw away prices – leaving the women with practically nothing for their labor. The women were helpless: despite hard labor they lives in perpetual debt cycle and hence in poverty. Professor Yunus was shocked to find that the combined need of credit of the 42 women was just 27 dollars! He figured out that all these poor women needed was access to small credits so that they could start small businesses. He strongly believed that given the chance, most of them would succeed. They would earn enough money to improve their lives – and pay back the money they had borrowed.

He loaned them the money without interest. Immediately the women got the freedom to sell their goods in open market at reasonable higher profits. Soon they were out of past debts, paid back the loan of Professor Yunus and started saving money!

This was the experience that laid the foundation for birth of Grameen Bank!!

The Grameen Bank

Thus, in 1983, he started the Grameen Bank. Today, the bank is a global phenomenon. Around 95 percent of its customers are women. The money they borrow helps them make more money. For example, some women borrow money from the bank to buy stuff to sell in the market. Many women have turned into successful shop-keepers this way. Others use it to buy cow so that they can make money from its milk. One group of women bought mobile phones with the money they borrowed. Nobody else in their villages had telephones. So, the “telephone ladies” provided a public telephone service for money.

The money they earn has helped millions of villagers to improve their lives. From having just one or two meals a day, they can now afford three. They can pay for their children’s education and afford medicines. No wonder Bangladeshis treat Prof. Yunus like a hero, but he gives credit for Grameen Bank’s success to the ordinary people. In his opinion people already have the capabilities; they only need an enabling environment to change their own lives. Today Grameen Bank is owned by the rural poor whom it serves and is a commercially viable bank. Borrowers of the Bank own 90% of its shares, while the remaining 10% is owned by the government. It serves over 25% of Bangladesh Population. The recovery rate is over 99 percent – an eye opener for the orthodox bankers who ignore the poor!

Microcredit does what billions of dollars given in charities for the poor failed to achieve. Micro-credit helps solve a host of in-tractable, long-term social ills related to poverty: In Norway’s Arctic Circle, it is helping repopulate the Lofoten Islands. In the US, in Oklahoma microcredit is helping reduce alcoholism and in Chicago, it is helping get unwed mothers off welfare. If world leaders are truly concerned about eradicating poverty, it should get behind microcredit and support it with more than just lip service. [Read how the idea of microcredit evolved since then.]

Charities have an inherent limitation: by tackling the symptoms of poverty they only help sustain it rather than eliminate it. Most charities are limited to distribution of free food, clothing and other essentials; they make people dependent. Microcredit, on the other hand, is empowering; it helps the poor stand on their own strength. It enables them to setup small businesses to have running income source.

The Grameen Bank Objectives

The Grameen Bank came into operation with the following objectives:

  1. To extend banking facilities to poor men and women.
  2. To eliminate the exploitation of the poor by money lenders.
  3. To create opportunities for self-employment for the vast multitude of unemployed people in rural Bangladesh.
  4. To bring the disadvantaged, mostly the women from the poorest households, within the fold of an organizational format which they can understand and manage by themselves. And
  5. To reverse the age-old vicious circle of “low income, low saving & low investment”, into virtuous circle of “more income, more savings, more investment, more income”.

women empowerment 1s

Focus on Building Social Capital

The Grameen Bank gives high priority on building social capital. It is promoted through formation of groups and centres, developing leadership quality through annual election of group and centre leaders, electing board members when the institution is owned by the borrowers. To develop a social agenda owned by the borrowers, it undertakes a process of intensive discussion among the borrowers, and encourages them to take these decisions seriously and implement them. It gives special emphasis on the formation of human capital and concern for protecting environment. It monitors children’s education, provides scholarships and student loans for higher education. For formation of human capital it makes efforts to bring technology, like mobile phones, solar power, and promote mechanical power to replace manual power.

The Grameen Bank believes that the poor have skills which remain unutilized or under-utilized. It is definitely not the lack of skills which make poor people poor. It believes that the poverty is not created by the poor; it is created by the institutions and policies which surround them. In order to eliminate poverty all we need to do is to make appropriate changes in the institutions and policies, and/or create new ones. It also believes that charity is not an answer to poverty. It only helps poverty to continue. It creates dependency and takes away individual’s initiative to break through the wall of poverty. Unleashing of energy and creativity in each human being is the answer to poverty. It entered India in 2011 through its Grameen Foundation India.

Explore Further

Q/A With Muhammad Yunus
Creating A World Without Poverty: Turning The Poor into Entrepreneurs!
Poverty Reduction: Using Business As Agent Of Change In The Lives of Poor

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