INDIA AND THE MILLENNIUM DEVELOPMENT GOALS
In 2000, at the dawn of the New Millennium, the United Nations (UN) set out its objectives to bring about a better world by focusing on the need to halve poverty, tackle sickness and combat environmental degradation by 2015, these commitments known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) reflected international consensus that poverty in an increasingly prosperous world economy was unacceptable. These Goals provided measurable targets to monitor progress. For the first time, rich countries and international financial institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) were to be held accountable, in terms of their action to secure the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
In September 2005, when more than 170 world leaders assembled at the UN in New York, all of them had an opportunity to appraise the progress made so far to secure the Development Goals. But the sad fact remains that the achievement in the last five years has been “slow”, if not “dismal”.
Will we ever achieve these Goals by the deadline in 2015? Will these pious declarations remain platitudes? Apolitical observer says: “Many of the MDGs will not be met by 2015. None of thenj will be met in Africa. Poverty has stagnated or worsened in every region outside Asia. In Africa, there are over 100 million more people living in poverty than there were in 1990. Even within success stories, such as India, poverty has not been matched with human development. The figures were poor for child mortality, malnutrition and gender parity. The number of people suffering from hunger has increased since 1977; over 150 million children in developing nations are underweight.
Though the UN laid down the MDGs with all fanfare and publicity blitz, not enough political will is forthcoming from the rich countries and the international financial institutions to tackle the problems within the timeframe. As per the present indications, Africa and South and East Asia will fail to achieve universal primary education even by 2015. In other words, as many as 75 million children in over 80 countries would still remain out of school. In Africa child expectancy has already fallen by fifteen years since 1990, largely due to HIV (Human Immuno-deficiency Virus) and AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome).
Take the single issue of drinking water that is still not available or accessible in many parts of Africa and Asia. The unavailability of pure water alone can kill millions of children worldwide and this problem is closely inter-connected with meeting UN’s MDGs. A few months ago Ministers from African countries and experts on water met in Stockholm (Sweden) to discuss poor sanitation and unsafe drinking water that threaten to undermine the UN efforts to fight poverty, hunger and disease in Africa. The major theme of the meet was global water management. Ministers in Charge of Water from Uganda, Ethiopia and Lesotho complained that international aid was helping to bring food and medicines to many African nations, but little attention is being paid to poor sanitation, which affects an estimated two-thirds of the African continent.
“Children pass away every other minute because they don’t have access to clean water,” said Uganda’s Minister and chairperson, of the African Ministers Council of Water. “There is no international organization that looks at water sanitation,” said Ethiopia’s minister.
Take the issue of poverty in our own country. Of the one billion populations, 320 million are “officially” poor Of this two-thirds constitute women, in what sociologists call “feminisation of poverty”. Rural poverty is rampant in a virulent form in Orissa, Jharkhand, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra. Poverty is no longer just an economic phenomenon (as is evident from the lack of sufficient income, lack of calories and the abject failure to meet basic needs), it is a symbol of social deprivation (characterized by a sense of powerlessness and deprivation of entitlement).
How do we expect to provide food security? Pumping large sums of money into antipoverty programmes may not be enough. A monitoring cell must be set up at national, State and district levels to oversee that the funds meant for the poor really reach them.
The war against poverty must be won because it alone ensures social justice, equity and susta inability. Complementing the efforts of the Centre and the States are galaxy of dedicated NGOs working in different fields. One must commend the work of organization such as the Chipko Movement in Uttaranchal, the Chennai-based Working Women’s Forum, Mumbai-based Annapurna Manila Mandai, the lndo-German Watershed Development Programme in Maharashtra and the Kerala Sasthra Sahitya Parishad, for promoting economic and social empowerment of the socially and economically disadvantaged section of society and espousing the cause of ecology.
Since 2001, the Supreme Court has issued a number of the interim orders that have prodded the Central and State Governments into action in identifying the beneficiaries of various welfare programmes. The most important order came in November 2001, when the Court directed the State Governments to implement a cooked Mid-Day Meals Scheme for primary school children. Many States like Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Kama taka have launched a cooked Mid-Day Meals programme for children. The Mid-Day Meals programme provides for a multi-pronged attack on problems such as rural poverty, child illness, enrolment and retention of children in elementary schools and the chronic problem of child labour.
Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen discovers that the provision of healthcare and nutrition support is interlinked with the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government’s rural employment programme. “The removal of massive under-nourishment in India requires a combination of health initiatives, nutrition interventions such as Mid-Day Meals, and the creation of extra income, particularly for those whose families are hungry because they have no work.
Child labour is closely intertwined with the universalisation of elementary education-a subject that has become a Fundamental Right in India. In other words, the only remedy in tackling child labour is to put children into schools. The problem is worldwide and is closely linked with one of the MDGs-the promotion of primary education. According to the ILO (International Labour Organisation), there are one million children aged between 5 and 17 currently toiling in mines and quarries all over tl 1e world. The work exposes children to the risk of death and injury from tunnel collapse, accidental explosions, rock falls, exposure to toxic substances such as mercury and lead, and chronic conditions such as silicosis.
In some cases, children work in mines as deep as 90 metres with only a suspending rope to climb in and out, inadequate ventilation and only a flashlight or candle for light. In small mines, child workers dig and haul heavy loads of rock, dive into flooded tunnels in search of minerals, set
off explosives for underground blasting and crawl through narrow tunnels only as wide as their bodies. In quarries, children spend long hours pounding large rocks into gravel, to be used for construction material for roads and buildings.
Working in mines and on quarries is just a part of the bigger story of child exploitation that has spread indifferent sectors owing to the prevailing poverty in rural areas. Unfortunately, India has the dubious distinction as the country with the largest number of child work-force. Can we ever tackle the problem of child labour by 2015?
In the field of health, we find a widening gap between the availability of health facilities for the poor and that for the richer classes. With hundreds of multi-specialty hospitals coming up in big cities we talk of medical tourism. Patients from abroad can now come to India for treatment and surgery at one-tenth of the cost in their own countries.
And as regards the global crusade against AIDS, the experts say that India is one of the few countries with the scientific and manufacturing capacity to produce affordable cheap generic drugs for distribution to the world market. A world that commits itself to universal treatment will be healthier, more productive, and more equitable. But all this doesn’t mean medicare is within the reach of the impoverished millions in India-an unpleasant truth that explains the high infant mortality and maternal mortality in most parts of the country.
Can India and the rest of the world attain the MDGs by 2015? The G-8 and the international financial institutions have yet to wake up to the crying needs of the deprived across the world. For India too, it is no mean task to mainstream the millions still struggling for basic needs. As time runs out, the world body will be left with the only option of extending the deadline.