Saturday, July 17, 2010

Indexing Poverty

What is the number of people living below poverty line even after making adjustments and attempts to hide the poverty in India, that has the second largest number of billionaires in the world? It counts for about 645 million people or 55% of India's population made up of ten markers of education, health, standard of living, access to basic services, income and achievement levels. This is more than the entire population of the United States of America.

Well, there are 140 million from just 8 north Indian states of Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chattishgarh! This is more than all the poor of the Africa put together! Many international humanitarian organizations are walking away from India, targeting on Africa and South America. Even some of my own friends from America and Europe feel that the poverty is high in those continents. True. In those continents, poverty is geographically concentrated. But here, it is widespread, making it more difficult to control.

Nutritional deprivation is overwhelmingly the largest factor in overall poverty, unsurprising given that half of all children in India are under-nourished according to the National Family Health Survey III (2005-06). Close to 40% of those who are defined as poor are also nutritionally deprived.

The "intensity" of the poverty in parts of India is equal to, if not worse than, that in Africa. When Indian Madhya Pradesh state, which has a population of 70 million, was compared with the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the war-racked African state of 62 million inhabitants, the two were found to have near-identical levels of poverty.

The Scheduled Tribes have the highest MPI (0.482), almost the same as Mozambique, and a headcount (the percentage of people who are MPI poor) of 81 per cent. The Scheduled Castes have a headcount of 66 per cent and their MPI is a bit better than Nigeria. Fifty-eight per cent of other Backward Castes are MPI poor. About one in three of the remaining Indian households are multi-dimensionally poor. In West Bengal (MPI = 0.32), 58 per cent of people are MPI poor, and they are on average deprived in 54 per cent of the dimensions or weighted indicators

The survey found that in Madhya Pradesh poverty levels were higher because of malnutrition. In Congo, access to schooling was a problem.

The study's conclusions will reinforce claims that distribution of the wealth generated by India's rapid economic growth – recently around 10% year on year – is deeply unequal. The prime minister, Manmohan Singh, and Ms. Sonia Gandhi, the chief of the ruling Congress Party have repeatedly said they want to see "inclusive" growth.

Poverty has long proved difficult to define. The World Bank bases its definition on household income and estimates that a quarter of the developing world lives on $1.25 (85p) a day or less. However, relying simply on money excluded everything that is outside the cash economy and didn't look at issues such as housing or access to safe water, or access to education and standard of living.

A comparison of the state of Madhya Pradesh and the sub-Saharan nation of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which have close to the same population and a similar MPI (0.389 and 0.393 respectively), shows that nutritional deprivation, arguably the most fundamental part of poverty, in Madhya Pradesh far exceeds that in the DRC. Nutritional deprivation contributes to almost 20% of the state's MPI and only 5% of the DRC's MPI. MP's drinking water, electricity and child mortality levels are better than that of the DRC.

The new index is also designed to track variations within countries much better. Based on the MPI, Bihar is by far the poorest of any state in the country, with 81.4% of its population defined as poor, which is close to 12% more than the next worst stateof Uttar Pradesh. In Kerala (the best in the country) there are only 16% of the population who are MPI poor.

In Down South with the Poor

The last couple of weeks went in training of over 100 villagers in the Sunderbans, across two blocks in disaster risk reduction. Some of them had traveled for over an hour on boat to come for the trainings! It is encouraging to become more and more a part pf their lives. In Sonagaon, I was amazed by the "helplessness and hopelessness" exhibited by many people, as they kept repeating that they cannot overcome the kind of deluge exhibited by films on climate change. A man in his sixties even pointed out that they would be wiped out in 2012. He referred to the movie with the same name! Interesting. If only positive acts of coping can be equally included in these movies, people would both get entertained and educated. There was also certain amount of pessimism about the administration, governments and issues of fighting poverty. But by the end of the day, I had managed to turn them towards a positive vision.

Nothing is as contagious as courage. But, if the people are not ready to take the fight on, nothing else is worse than that. Once they begin to feel that they can over come the negative impacts of climate change, when they accept that they can turn the tide and make the world work on the positive acts to reduce global warming, and have the strength to remain prepared for disasters, they will survive--as humans, even if, as people living with lesser dignity.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Rediscovering the Journey

We have heard in the Gospels saying, "The foxes have their holes, the birds have their nests. But the Son of Man does not have a place to lay his head". It was only to mean that he had no specific place "as his own". When I left southern India in 1986 I thought I would be just traveling, probably with a bag, going around villages and towns, brings joy and God's love in hundreds of houses. I never thought I would be doing some "settled" works. The last weeks have taught me, actually Jesus is right. I do not need to be settled to do what is good. In the last 40 days I have never been short of place to sleep or to eat, as people have always wanted me and my help in whatever good thing they want to do. I have traveled from the top of Himalayas to the Sunderbans, from Kolkata to some of the most undeveloped villages in West Bengal, from the corners of a seminary to some of the families of friends of other religions. I have had no problem in staying or in serving the poor. The last month has seen me supporting the building of the houses of 12 very poor people who could not even gather the broken tins and roofs the tornado left in April 2010, starting an early warning system, that can be expanded across the country and can be made multi-lingual, and conducted special trainings and facilitation for over 10 days covering 100 persons in the 40 days, besides motivating several others.

When I did not need to sleep on a bed, I found the trains and buses as comfortable places to lay my head. And I have always found time to wash and iron my clothes, giving me enough time to refresh myself. Soon, I would be in more places, with the poor, the vulnerable, teaching them the art of surviving disasters, improving their livelihood and educating themselves to have access to government resources.

It doesn't matter...if I have a home or not! The world is my territory, and all people in it are my own.