India is home to the world’s largest population of people living in extreme poverty, totaling one-third of all extremely impoverished people globally according to the UN’s 2014 Millennium Development Goals report.
China trails right behind India in ranking but is praised in the report for their speedy progress to eliminate greater widespread poverty over the last two decades. Meanwhile, India’s improvements have lagged. China has reduced poverty in its population down from 60 percent to 16 percent between 1990 and 2010. India has only moved down from 49.4 percent to 32.7 percent between 1994 and 2010.
Najma Heptulla, the Minority Affairs Minister under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, spoke frankly about the UN’s report but remained optimistic about the outlook for India’s poor, insisting poverty continues to be one of the government’s main priorities.
“Good days will come… We don’t have to be proud of what we have done. Povery is the biggest challenge… I am sure when the next report comes, we will have done much better,” she said.
Heptulla has worked with the UN program to alleviate extreme poverty in India under multiple prime ministers and is a key player in current and future developments. Her honest recognition of India’s sluggish progress is a positive sign that more fruitful efforts can be expected from the country’s government.
Overall, the Southern Asian population living in extreme poverty has dropped steadily to 30 percent in the same time frame, but the region still houses two-thirds of the world’s poorest overall.
The health crises currently faced by India’s poor population are the result of multiple factors relating to poverty, culture and the unequal distribution of developmental improvements. Those residing in the poorest neighborhoods are disconnected from modern healthy lifestyle practices such as using a toilet, which is still culturally unacceptable in slums across the nation, that then pose serious health threats to communities without proper medical attention or council.
Human waste deposits in local water sources are linked to higher rates of water-borne diseases and disproportionately affect mothers and children. Almost 60 percent of the world’s open air defecators live in India according to the report, which connected the practice to 17 percent of global maternal deaths.
These statistics are just a few among various unflattering rates detailed in the 2014 Millennium Development Goals report for India, including the country’s number one rank among deaths of children under five, a total of 1.4 million in 2012. According to the World Health Organization, most child deaths in India are the result of pneumonia, diarrhea and prematurity, all of which stem from unsanitary living conditions and malnourishment of women and children living in slums.
One positive highlight for India and all of Southern Asia outlined in the report notes the increase in literacy rates for the region, upped from 60 to 80 percent between 1990 and 2011.
There is a long way to go for those living in extreme poverty in India, and it is up to the government to issue the necessary policies and resource allocation for its citizens in its self-proclaimed philosophy of “sabka saath sabka vikas”–“With all, development for all.”
– Edward Heinrich