information and stories about India.

viral hepatitis in IndiaViral hepatitis is one of the leading causes of death in India, where more than 60 million people are infected with this deadly disease. Known as a “silent killer,” hepatitis is a viral disease that can cause inflammation in the liver. Different types of hepatitis refer to the type of virus infecting its host. In India, Hepatitis A (HAV) is amongst the most common, particularly for children. However, other types of hepatitis, such as type E or type C, still pose a large threat to the health and wellbeing of Indian citizens.

Current Problems Regarding Viral Hepatitis in India

In India, Hepatitis B infects at least 40 million people, and Hepatitis C infects more than 6 million. As of now, viral hepatitis in India is becoming a serious health concern, especially amongst children. With few vaccinations available, many children aren’t able to prevent this disease. As of now, less than 44% of children are fully vaccinated against hepatitis. In contrast, Nepal and Bangladesh have more than 80% of their children fully scheduled for vaccinations. India has almost seven million children unvaccinated. As a result, this makes them more vulnerable to viruses such as hepatitis.

Only 1.2% of India’s national budget goes toward vaccinations. The lack of government assistance contributes to the overwhelming number of children that remain unvaccinated. Even this budget only goes toward six basic vaccinations, comprising diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, tuberculosis, polio and measles, meaning that it excludes hepatitis.

Another large contributor to the spread of this disease is poor infrastructure, often found in impoverished areas. Pipelines with water contamination are more likely to spread the virus, especially in urban cities. India has one of the largest water crises due to poor filtration and contaminated pipelines. Only 32% of piped water has been treated because rivers and lakes are more prone to sewage, leading to micro-contaminations. As Hepatitis A and Hepatitis E are waterborne viruses, it remains a priority for the Indian government to treat its contaminated water supply. This is especially vital for people living in impoverished regions. More than 37 million Indians have been infected with waterborne diseases, resulting in more than 10,000 deaths annually.

Promising Solutions for Viral Hepatitis in India

Although viral hepatitis in India is a large health concern, there are countless efforts to mitigate the spread of this deadly disease. For example, the World Health Organization and UNICEF have established the Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation. This program led 17 states in India to reach the Millenium Development Goal 7 (MDG). Additionally, the government of India established the National Virus Hepatitis Control Program, which gives access to more testing and treatment. This program focuses on rural areas and hopes to end viral hepatitis by 2030.

Some smaller nonprofit organizations are also working to prevent the spread of hepatitis. For example, Water.org has 34 partnerships in India, including with UNICEF and the World Bank. Additionally, Water.org has been able to provide more than 13 million people with water and sanitation with $599 million from its partnerships. The BridgIT Foundation has similar goals in solving the water crisis in the most affected counties. As of now, it has built wells in 30 villages. In addition, it partners up with the Rural Development Society and the Sri K. Pitchi Reddy Educational & Welfare Society to reach more than 30,000 people who don’t have access to clean water.

The Path Ahead to Reform

Although eradicating viral hepatitis remains a priority in India, reform begins with the basis of the problem. By improving its resources, such as sanitation and vaccination, India will be able to reduce the spread of viral diseases like hepatitis. With the number of government and local efforts, there is a large chance of mitigating viral hepatitis in India in the near future.

Aishwarya Thiyagarajan 
Photo: Flickr

solar-powered sewing machinesIn rural India, where many people lack sustainable energy sources, there has been a recent emphasis on clean energy. This means focusing on decentralized, renewable energy (DRE) over “brown” energy, provided through sources such as coal. Clean energy is especially important in India because it may not only produce more sustainable energy systems but also create more jobs and higher incomes. Solar-powered sewing machines are just one example of how sustainable energy can help lift people out of poverty.

Energy in India

India is the second-highest coal consumer in the world, consuming around 966,288,693 tons per year since 2016. This amount has decreased, however, due to COVID-19. In April 2020, Coal India Ltd.’s shipments decreased by 25.5% to 39.1 million tons. This drop in coal use greatly impacts rural areas, which lack reliable electricity.

More than four million rural micro-businesses struggle with this lack of sustainable energy sources. In rural areas, where 29% of people are below the poverty line, micro-enterprises make up a large portion of people’s incomes. These enterprises provide a service costing less than 10 lakh rupees. To combat their challenges with electricity, these businesses have begun to harness solar power on a smaller scale through sewing machines, printing machines and lighting. Many NGOs have also begun to help these businesses set up major infrastructure to do so.

A Solution in Solar-Powered Sewing Machines

Clean energy could not only produce sustainable energy, but it also has a higher potential for efficient outcomes, increasing average income and creating more jobs. The workforce could increase to at least 330,000 people using green energy, compared to the 300,000 employed with coal in India.

A concrete example of this phenomenon is solar-powered sewing machines. These machines, developed by Resham Sutra, use 90% less power than standard machines. In addition to creating more jobs, these sewing machines’ increased efficiency could also benefit rural areas by reducing the effects of pollution from coal. Rural women will especially benefit from solar-powered sewing machines. In the state of Maharashtra, around 21% of women with micro-enterprises are tailors.

Additionally, the Selco Foundation has looked to make small but sustainable improvements to pre-existing machines. By attaching a permanent magnet DC motor, the organization allows solar energy to power sewing machines. This mechanism increased efficiency by 25%. A study conducted by The Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) on the impacts of the Selco Foundation found that the annual income of tailors increased by 39% on average after adding solar power to sewing machines. Tailors’ income rose from a median value of INR 65,000 to INR 90,000.

Using Solar-Powered Sewing Machines to Combat COVID-19

As COVID-19 supplies have been scarce in many parts of India, some female tailors have stitched masks to disperse, supporting their businesses while fighting COVID-19. Smart Power India, powered by the Rockefeller Foundation, has shifted its mission to address COVID-19 in India. The NGO has placed 250 mini-grids across India to provide electricity to over 230,000 people. The foundation now supplies money to seamstresses to stitch face masks to various districts for protection from COVID-19. Each tailor uses solar-powered sewing machines powered by the mini-grids placed by the Rockefeller Foundation. Over a two-month period, the 25 women funded by Smart Power India have sewed over 125,000 masks, receiving $400 to $500 for their work.

For those in poverty, sustainable energy continues to be an obstacle to increasing wealth. Clean energy can both reduce efficiency and pollution as well as help people find a consistent source of income. Rural tailors in India, encouraged by solar-powered sewing machines, can thus climb out of poverty while helping their communities.

Nitya Marimuthu
Photo: Flickr

job guarantees
As global unemployment and food insecurity (as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic) rise — there is a great need for innovative macroeconomic solutions to mitigate the adverse effects of these crises on the world’s poor. The idea of a federal job guarantees has become more popular lately. This perhaps is a response to the mass international unemployment and recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Job guarantee programs, which have been implemented across the world, involve mass public employment for all people who are seeking a job. These programs are helping to lift millions out of poverty while also offering non-monetary health benefits. Creative ideas like job guarantee programs are imperative to consider when seeking solutions for the devastating harm that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused to the world’s poor.

The Benefits of Employment

Employment offers the obvious benefit of the income and the corresponding ability to provide for oneself and one’s family, monetarily. Mass public employment can reduce the need for many social welfare programs and replace them with salaries earned from substantive, productive and helpful work. In certain scenarios, job guarantees can provide healthcare, childcare and other benefits to the world’s poor.

Job guarantees can also provide individuals with non-monetary benefits that only employment can offer. Employment and higher income have been consistently correlated with better physical and mental health. Yet another reason why this type of program can be incredibly beneficial. Employment has also been linked to lower mortality rates and a reduced risk of depression and other mental illnesses. Furthermore, working individuals feel a higher sense of self-esteem and even recover more quickly from sickness, when employed.

Where It Has Worked

Countries across the world, most famously India and Argentina, have implemented employment guarantee programs. In Argentina, the government started the “Plan Jefes y Jefas” program in response to the country’s 2001 financial collapse. This program sought to improve public infrastructure such as sanitation, roads and schools by guaranteeing employment to any heads of households for a maximum of 20 hours per week.

The program specifically targeted female heads of households, as women are often left out of the labor force in Argentina and are quick to be labeled “unemployable.” In fact, 71% of the beneficiaries of the program were women. At the time, Argentina was classified as a developing economy — proving that job guarantees can thrive outside of the developed world.

In 2005, the Indian government passed the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) — which provided guaranteed jobs to India’s poorest rural population. The program has been an unprecedented success in raising wages for rural workers, helping women enter the workforce, increasing access to healthy foods and education and decreasing the number of people who unwillingly leave their home villages to seek employment in cities.

The program reached more than 54 million households, underscoring its ease of access. The success of the Indian job guarantee program demonstrates how transformative these types of programs are in fighting extreme poverty.

The Power of a Job Guarantee

Along with the individual relief that job guarantees provide, they also offer significant macroeconomic benefits. Job guarantees empower workers and increase their bargaining power against global conglomerates. Also, job guarantees can increase consumer spending and therefore boost tax income for developing governments. In that same vein, it is these very types of governments that would benefit greatly from the increased revenue. These programs can help steady the economy during recessions while also maintaining inflation through stabilizing purchasing power.

Job guarantee programs have serious potential to effectively fight poverty while also providing benefits to the governments that administer them. These programs have the potential to provide income, power, health benefits and other opportunities to the world’s poor. Moreover, as proven tools in the fight against global poverty, their use may be paramount.

Garrett O’Brien
Photo: Flickr

The establishment and protection of women’s rights and the creation of opportunities for economic empowerment are essential to the reduction of extreme global poverty. Indian women continue to face great challenges although legally women and men living in India have equal rights, inferiority persists between them through familial relations and cultural norms. Emphasis on traditional gender roles such as taking care of the home, children, elders and religious obligations often leave women with little time to pursue educational opportunities. As a result, India has one of the lowest female literacy rates in Asia. With a lack of education, finding employment that provides a livable wage can seem hopeless, but organizations like Shakti.ism are creating new hope.

Economic Empowerment as a Solution – Shakti.ism

Shakti.ism, a female-led social enterprise, aims to dismantle these cultural norms through economic empowerment, improving women’s lives one accessory at a time. The organization provides employment opportunities for women in India, many of whom are victims of domestic and gender-based violence. The women work to create unique hand-crafted accessories and work to develop and establish themselves as artisans. The social enterprise partners with NGOs throughout India in order to reach as women and girls as possible. Shakti.ism is also committed to abiding by and promoting the 10 Principles of Fair Trade and the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals. Founded by Jitna Bhagani, a survivor of gender-based violence herself, she hopes to encourage self-sustainment, independence and entrepreneurship in efforts “to break the cycle of poverty.”

Bhagani recognizes that cultural norms continue to largely impede upon the achievements and rights of women living in India. In a featured post by the Harvest Fund, Bhagani shares the stories of some of the women that Shakti.ism has helped. Many of these women are victims of discrimination as a result of the caste system, although outlawed in 1950, it still remains deeply culturally embedded. She notes that a lack of education, sex trafficking, familial relations and religious and cultural beliefs are some of the most prevalent causes of poverty and gender-based violence.

Impact

In collaboration with a number of NGOs, Jitna Bhagani’s Shakti.ism aims to tackle these issues by providing women with training focused on strengthening livelihood skills, compensating for a lack of formal education, a safe place to work, and alleviating dependence on male family members which reinforce societal norms. Another core goal of Shakti.ism’s mission is to provide women with the opportunity to become self-sustaining entrepreneurs, granting them access to a global market, financial and emotional support and secured wages.

Shakti.ism’s partnership with several NGOs has allowed the organization’s mission to reach women living in many parts of India, including Pondicherry, Jaipur, Hyderabad, and Chennai. The nonprofit organization has also partnered with another social enterprise called Basha Enterprises, allowing the mission to expand its reach to women in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Many of the women that have been employed by Shakti.ism have pursued entrepreneurship and are now participants in a global market, working to ensure economic prosperity and a decrease in global poverty.

Future Directions

Evidently, providing economic empowerment and opportunities to women is one of the most undervalued ways to alleviate global poverty, with some of the greatest returns. The United Nations cites that “empowering women in the economy and closing gender gaps in the world of work are key to achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Growth” which strives to end poverty. As demonstrated by the work and reach of Shakti.ism, the economic empowerment of women is vital in the mission to end global poverty.

– Stacy Moses
Photo: Flickr

ice stupasIn the mountain desert of Ladakh, a region located in Northern India, water has long been a valued and scarce resource. Ladakh is located in the Himalayas with a base elevation of roughly 8,000 feet and peaks reaching over 25,000 feet. Ladakhis rely almost entirely on glacial and permafrost melt for water. However, in recent years, due to rapidly receding glaciers, water shortages in Ladakh have become more severe. In years to come, experts expect this problem to worsen. Despite this issue, Ladakhis continue to innovate and adapt to the harsh and changing climate. Ice stupas are one example of this innovation.

Melting Glaciers Causing Spring Water Shortages

Water shortages in Ladakh are worst in the springtime, when farmers, who make up roughly 80% of the Ladakhi population, need to sow their fields. During the spring, glacial streams have not begun to flow yet since most glaciers are located higher in the mountains where temperatures are lower. As glaciers continue to recede, streams start flowing later and the water shortages of spring become longer and more damaging. The later farmers have to wait to start sowing their fields, the lower their yields and profits become.

Ladakhis have highly organized water management systems that have been developed over thousands of years. They primarily rely on mud canals and dams to distribute and store water as well as strict water usage rules to ensure water is used efficiently. These systems have been successful in Ladakh for generations but have proven to be insufficient in handling the changing climate.

Storing Winter Water in Ice Reservoirs

Observing the intensifying water shortages in Ladakh, Chewang Norphel, a local civil engineer, set out to design a method of storing water during the winter so that it could be used in the spring. There are many stories of Ladakhis creating man-made ice structures to store water, but many were inefficient, and there were no scientific methods to the practice. Norphel created his first artificial glacier in 1986 by creating a series of embankments along a stream that slow the water and create shallow pools just a few inches deep to ensure the water freezes. Built in October, these ice reservoirs collect and store water that would otherwise be wasted throughout the winter months. In the spring, they begin to melt, providing water for farmers that need it for irrigation.

Since creating his first artificial glacier in 1986, Norphel has created 16 more artificial glaciers. Sonam Wangchuk, inspired by Norphel’s artificial glaciers, put together a team in the fall of 2013 to create an improved ice reservoir. Wangchuk and his team developed a prototype for the ice stupa, a large cone of ice that can store more water and melts slower than Norphel’s design. When the small-scale prototype provided water well into May, Wangchuk knew they had discovered an important solution.

Ice stupas, named after the Buddhist structures that are built to house sacred relics, can be complex projects to build but work based on simple concepts. Water runs through an underground pipe from higher elevation down to the site of the ice stupa where, due to natural water pressure, it rises up through a vertical pipe without any pump. The water sprays out of a sprinkler at the top of the pipe and freezes as it falls onto a conical shape of branches. The conical shape gives the ice stupas a large advantage over Norphel’s artificial glaciers, as direct sunlight hits less surface area, meaning that the stupas melt slower and provide water for longer. Throughout the winter, this water freezes into huge cones of ice that can reach 30 to 50 meters high.

Each of these ice stupas can store millions of liters of water, enough to support farmers through the crucial spring months until the summer when glacial streams start flowing. Many of the ice stupa projects to date have been designed to support poplar and willow tree fields, which are two of the most profitable crops to grow in the area and require large amounts of water.

A More Comprehensive Solution

As the glaciers continue to recede, the need for ice stupas and other innovative water management solutions will only keep increasing. Darren Clark, a member of the ice stupa project from 2014 to 2019, says the ice stupas have benefited communities and are important symbols that alert Ladakhis of the changing climate and increased water shortages. Many Ladakhis were skeptical of the ice stupa projects initially, but, as spring water shortages in Ladakh continue to worsen, ice stupas are becoming more essential each year.

Clark sees ice stupas as just part of the solution for the future of water management in Ladakh. He would like to see improved water infrastructure and plumbing systems that can collect more meltwater throughout the year and distribute it more efficiently. One system could create ice stupas in the winter months and act as regular water distribution throughout the spring, summer and fall. Clark views such a system as an essential adaptation for Ladakhis in future years as snowpacks continue to diminish and glaciers recede.

Issues of water shortages in high mountain deserts are a growing problem in mountain communities everywhere. Clark has helped design and build similar ice stupa systems in Peru and Switzerland and is currently in the process of writing a book on how improved water management systems could benefit high mountain desert communities around the world. With millions of people living in mountain deserts relying primarily on glacial melt for water, improved water management systems — including ice stupas — will be an essential part of combating climate change in years to come.

– William Dormer
Photo: Flickr

Educating children in India
The new coronavirus pandemic has imposed previously unforeseen obstacles on education systems across the globe. This especially applies to those in low-income areas or rural communities. The responsibility to provide a sufficient alternative for the in-classroom education model has been placed on virtual resources. This is because online lessons keep children safe from exposure while learning. However, digital access may not be either adequate or equal in certain countries. The digital divide separates many people from the Internet. However, NGOs in India are working to provide children in India with the necessary tools to participate in virtual classes. Three NGOs in particular are taking care of vulnerable children who are unable to meet educational needs in India. Here are three NGOs educating children in India.

3 NGOs in India Facilitating Virtual Education

  1. The Miracle Foundation is a nonprofit organization with a focus on vulnerable children in orphanages. Furthermore, the foundation has a focus on vulnerable children in other institutions as well. Alongside the Child Care Institute (CCI), the Miracle Foundation is setting out to cover children’s COVID-era education, in vulnerable areas. Some activities facilitated by the duo include providing students with full use of CCI libraries. It also supplies teachers for remote lessons via video conference applications and hosts virtual Life Skills Education classes, among other things. CCI and the Miracle Foundation are operating successfully throughout seven states in India and they have shown no signs of slowing down.
  2. E-Vidyaloka, based in Bangalore, is an NGO that focuses on imparting education to students of rural, government schools in India. It does this through crowdsourcing volunteer teachers and connecting them to the rural government schools, using the power of information technology. The group creates digital classrooms for children in remote Indian villages. Consequently, this makes education more accessible to students during the current pandemic. The goal is to create a virtual learning environment that provides high-quality, e-learning for children in India. E-Vidyaloka has done just that by using technology for educating children in India.
  3. Magic Bus is one of the most prevalent poverty alleviation NGOs in India. The group helps more than 375,000 children in India, spanning across 22 states and 80 districts. Magic Bus supplies disadvantaged children in India from ages 12 to 18, with the necessary skills to overcome poverty into adulthood. In partnership with Classplus, Magic Bus provides an online, education platform to young students in India. The platform is called the Magic Bus Livelihood Programme. Classplus has enabled Magic Bus to engage in a virtual classroom setting while quarantined. According to the EdTechReview, Magic Bus’ expert staff is utilizing the platform to share assignments and broadcast messages. It is also utilizing it to deliver learning content and evaluate students’ performances, online. The application’s reach is incredible. The platform is projected to impact more than 2,000 children across 22 states in some of India’s most remote areas. These areas include Kurnool in Hyderabad, Ambadi and Shahpur in Mumbai and Thane.

An Educated Outlook

Overall, the upcoming school year will be an unprecedented event for students everywhere. It is far from likely that any parent could have prepared their child for education in this environment. Online education may soon become the new norm. Groups like the aforementioned NGOs are working to provide equal opportunities for children in vulnerable areas. With the beginning of the school year fast-approaching, educating children in India is under the care of notable organizations like the Miracle Foundation, E-Vidyaloka and Magic Bus. Students will now be enabled to study virtually, alongside other learners in any country.

Maxwell Karibian
Photo: Pixabay

Indian women
The coronavirus is disproportionately affecting women across the globe, setting back progress for global gender equality. Confined inside homes, women are shouldering more of the housework and childcare than their husbands, fathers and brothers. In India, a country where women are expected to fulfill homemaking roles, the gender disparities in housework between men and women are only growing more apparent, especially as more women exit the workforce. For Indian women, domestic unpaid labor consumes hours of their days and limits them to a life of financial dependence on their partners or a life of poverty. In India, two-thirds of the population lives in poverty. With the unemployment rate being as high as 18% for Indian women, compared to 7% for men in India, it’s inevitable that women make up a large percentage of this impoverished population.

Women’s Unpaid Role in India

While men in India complete less than an hour of unpaid labor each day, Indian women spend six hours of their day on unpaid labor. In comparison, men around the world typically spend around two hours a day on unpaid labor, while women spend four and a half hours.

Although the time and energy women put into cleaning and caring for children and the elderly are essential roles in economies, housework isn’t widely recognized as a form of labor. As part of their domestic responsibilities, Indian women must also retrieve water from wells, a chore that spans several hours and multiple trips in one day. Often lacking the aid of technology, Indian women must cook, clean and do laundry by hand.

Because women in India bear the burden of housework, they can’t maintain stable jobs outside their homes. This requires them to rely on their partners. This is in part due to the traditional patriarchal system India upholds. From a young age, Indian women are trained to fulfill roles inside the home. As a result, Indian women are excluded from the workforce, and young girls are pulled from schools to work inside the home, jeopardizing their education.

This reality has only grown over the years, as more and more women have exited the workforce. Over the past decade, the percentage of women in the workforce has dropped from 34% in 2004 to 25% in 2018, compared to the nearly 80% of men who work.

Why Female Employment Is Declining

The decline in female employment directly impacts Indian women’s risk of falling into poverty, as they are unable to financially support themselves. But up to 64% of women said they had to be responsible for housework as there were no other family members who would perform these responsibilities.

With a population of over 1.3 billion people, it’s increasingly difficult to secure a position in the Indian job market, and work positions designated for women are slim. On top of this, upon completing the same job as men, women earn 34% less in wages than their male coworkers. For women who manage to secure a job, their time is stretched thin as they complete both paid work and unpaid work. As a result, they are less likely to spend time on education, cultural and leisure activities.

There are exorbitant economic losses, though, when women are not welcomed into the workforce. According to an Oxfam report on female unpaid labor, the value of global unpaid labor performed by women amounts to at least $10.8 trillion annually, or, as the study suggests, “three times the size of the world’s tech industry.” By putting into context the monetary value of unpaid labor in society, the true economic loss of excluding Indian women from the workforce is undeniable.

In a step toward creating a more inclusive workforce environment for Indian women, the country passed the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act in 2017. The amendment increased the number of weeks for paid maternity leave from 12 to 26 weeks. But this act hasn’t led to a significant change in female workforce employment. Instead, the act could continue to negatively impact female employment. Newly responsible for covering the cost of additional paid maternity leave, companies may be less inclined to hire female workers.

Combined with the recent growth in female education and declining fertility rates, India’s economy is primed for welcoming women into the workforce. But the country must strike a balance between paid and unpaid labor, a gendered expectation rooted in Indian tradition.

Closing the Gender Gap: One Indian Woman’s Petition

One Indian woman is especially determined to redefine gender roles in India. Juggling unpaid labor at home along with her involvement in a charity for reproductive justice, Subarna Ghosh realized she was shouldering the majority of housework —particularly since the pandemic forced her family to stay home.

In July 2020, Ghosh decided to draft a petition on Change.org and describe her experience as a working woman in India expected to perform the majority of the housework. “Unequal distribution of unpaid household work has rendered the harshest blow to women across India during this lockdown. Yet, women’s care work continues to be invisible and no one wants to address this gross imbalance,” she wrote.

Directing her efforts at India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Ghosh concluded her petition by calling on Modi to encourage Indian men to equally fulfill their share of housework. The petition has received over 75,000 signatures, mostly from women who stand in solidarity with Ghosh and relate to her experience.

Ghosh’s petition reflects the persistent struggle for female equality in India, as one woman’s experience echoes the experience of thousands. Only when women in India are given the same opportunities as men will they be able to earn their own financial independence.

Grace Mayer
Photo: Flickr

Leprosy in India
In addition to widespread poverty and striking inequality, India has the highest number of leprosy cases in the world, with more than 120,000 cases in 2019. Although the disease is curable, leprosy has been neglected by the Indian government since it was considered to be eliminated in 2005. The government reallocated resources that once maintained health services, trained professionals and prioritized curing leprosy. The resurgence of the disease was met with a limited government response. Today, the government does not detect approximately 50% of new leprosy cases. As a result, leprosy in India remains a significant health crisis.

The Disease of Poverty

Despite the country’s soaring GDP, India is home to one of the highest populations of the world’s poor, with more than 300 million people living in poverty. 70% of the country’s population lives in rural areas and does not reap the benefits of India’s urban wealth. Leprosy, a “disease of poverty,” disproportionately affects India’s rural poor. Lepra has since emerged to combat the detrimental effects leprosy has on those diagnosed with the disease. The organization aims to prevent, treat and reduce stigma around leprosy in the communities it serves.

3 Ways Leprosy Affects India’s Rural Poor:

  1. In India that discriminate against people affected by leprosy. For example, leprosy is deemed an adequate reason for divorce, and people with visible leprosy are legally prevented from forms of public transport such as trains. Additionally, people with leprosy face tremendous social stigma and are often ostracized from their communities due to lack of awareness about the disease.
  2. India’s rural population has limited access to healthcare. Rural populations have fewer health facilities available to them despite higher rates of diseases in these communities. These deficiencies in diagnostic facilities and trained professionals leaves many leprosy cases undiagnosed.
  3. People in poor, rural areas are more likely to contract leprosy due to malnutrition and living conditions. Although more than 90% of people are naturally immune to leprosy and the disease is not easily transmitted, those with immune systems weakened by other illnesses, malnutrition or poor living conditions are more likely to contract the disease. India’s malnutrition rates are higher in rural areas than in urban areas. Poor hygiene and sanitation in rural areas coupled with malnutrition make these populations more likely to contract diseases such as leprosy.

Lepra: The Good News

Lepra was founded in Hyderabad, India in 1989 as a partner of Lepra UK. The organization began by supporting the implementation of the Indian government’s National Leprosy Eradication Programme. Lepra has since expanded dramatically, now working in 156 districts in 9 states. Lepra caters its leprosy response to the different districts it serves. However, its core programs focus on detecting new cases, disability prevention and care, empowerment and inclusion. The organization prioritizes vulnerable, poor populations such as women, children and those living in slums.

Since its founding, Lepra has treated more than 565,000 affected individuals, provided disability care for more than 95,000 people, and produced specialized protective footwear for more than 250,000 people. Lepra organizes multiple projects in each of the 9 states it serves. It also offers services to combat lymphatic filariasis, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and eye issues.

In Delhi, Lepra’s West Delhi Referral Centre conducts screenings and surveys in schools and regularly follows up with the families of infected children until they are cured. The project also informs people affected by leprosy of their rights and engages in community outreach to reduce prejudice against those affected by the disease.

Moving Forward

Since rural poor populations are most affected by leprosy, it is essential that the Indian government invest in health facilities, train professionals to address the disease in poor regions and reform the laws discriminating against people with leprosy. Lepra’s programs and projects pave the way for leprosy to be eliminated in India and for those affected by leprosy to gain societal acceptance.

– Melina Stavropoulos
Photo: Unsplash

India’s Agricultural Supply ChainThe COVID-19 pandemic has indubitably altered the way goods and services are distributed. India, a country that relies heavily on agriculture, is an example of how agricultural economies falter in the face of a pandemic. India has the second-largest arable land area in the world, with a coastline of over 7,500 kilometers. In fact, agriculture is India’s largest employer, comprising 42% of the workforce. This means that disruptions to India’s agricultural supply chain hurt the wellbeing of its citizens.

Before the coronavirus, India was already experiencing some setbacks in agricultural production. First, India’s economy was growing at a slower rate, compounding existing problems of unemployment, low incomes, rural distress, malnutrition and inequality. Second, India maintains a large informal sector. An informal sector is one in which people do not report their incomes, and hence do not pay taxes on these incomes. Out of India’s 465 million workers, around 91% were informal workers in 2018. This sector is especially vulnerable because it comprises many agriculture workers and migrant workers. If India’s agricultural supply chain is disrupted, then these workers’ sources of income are consequently affected.

Lockdown Regulations

In response to lockdown orders, informal workers migrated back to their rural hometowns. They were hoping to wait out the virus and follow restrictions. As this period overlapped with the harvest season in mid-April, the annual harvest was disrupted. Major liquidity issues ensued, notably with the June crop.

During a lockdown, informal workers do not have access to their usual sources of income. On the other hand, many workers in the formal economy retain regular salaries. It is estimated that in the first wave of the pandemic, almost 10 million people returned to their villages, half a million of them walking or bicycling. As a result of this economic stoppage, the International Labor Organization has projected that 400 million people in India risk falling into poverty.

Transportation Restrictions

Among other industries, COVID-19 is disrupting India’s agricultural supply chains. In order to slow the progression of the virus, authorities heavily restrict movement across state borders, which blocks the movement and sale of crops. In addition, the lack of workers has interfered with the upkeep of machines and modes of transportation. Overall, limits on movement and a reduced workforce restrict the availability of food in India.

The transportation issue also translates into a range of export challenges. India’s agricultural supply chain serves domestic food consumption. In addition, it also is a top exporter of agricultural produce in the world. Unfortunately, many major economies have implemented similar lockdown restrictions, which creates backlogs in supply chains. For instance, around half a million tonnes of Indian rice is locked up in the supply chains, while perishable items cannot be processed due to fear of delayed transit. Nearly $40 billion of India’s agricultural exports are being severely affected by these repercussions of the pandemic.

Recovery

Even with these injuries to India’s agricultural supply chain, the country is expected to remain among the world’s fastest-growing economies. But these agricultural problems still call for new solutions.

Following COVID-19, digital innovations such as the eNAM (electronic National Agriculture Market) offer a pan-India electronic trading platform for farmers. The government recommended that states discourage the direct sale of crops and that farmers opt for rural wholesale markets. The government also launched an app that helps farmers and traders find transport vehicles.

Furthermore, several nonprofit organizations are working to ensure food security in India. For example, Rise Against Hunger India focuses on distributing meals and life-changing aid in rural India, after the organization noticed a lack of food supplies during the COVID-19 pandemic. The executive director, Dola Mohapatra, spoke about the rising hunger and food security concerns in India, giving special mention to the unstable incomes of informal workers and other daily wage workers.

Although India’s agricultural supply chain is currently facing issues, the government is working to overcome these challenges with innovations that expedite the buying and selling of agricultural materials.

Elizabeth Qiao
Photo: Pixabay

Uplifting Women Through Economic Empowerment in India
India is located in South Asia and has a population of about 1.3 billion people. The country is mostly known for its agricultural work, multiple languages and cultural communities. Also, India has been a part of the U.N. since its creation in 1945. Currently, the country is attempting to grow its economy and reach the technological level of first world countries. Yet, among many issues that India needs to recognize is gender and class inequalities within its workforce. One solution is uplifting women through economic empowerment.

The Legacy of India’s Caste System

In India, caste and ethnic background still play a major role in the workplace — which can lead to people remaining stuck in underprivileged communities. Many believe that women may be educated but should nevertheless, remain housewives after marriage. Recently, many women have married, subsequently left their jobs and then attempted to return to work after many years of absence. Saundarya Rajesh, who holds a doctorate in Women’s Workforce Participation and hails from Chennai, recognized that there were not many women in white-collar jobs and that class differences were preventing women’s acceptance, when restarting their careers. Rajesh herself was a second-career woman in a white-collar job, who felt the pressure to choose between work and family. Her experiences led to her beginning Avtar I-Win in 2005, with the aim of helping women in similar situations to her own.

Avtar I-Win Empowers Women

The first step for Avtar I-Win was connecting women with job opportunities — helping showcase their resumes or launch their careers. Rajesh wanted the corporate workforce to create or allocate jobs for women — many of these jobs only men held. The Avtar I-Win group has completed 15,000 successful placements and the group continues to place women in new careers. The group’s main goal is to uplift women through economic empowerment in India. As the program grew, the organization cultivated a counseling service with a focus on life decisions and career development, called WINSIGHT. The service, run by qualified experts, provides a way for women to gain mentorship themselves and grow into mentors for other Avtar women.

With the growth of the organization, Rajesh and her board have added new aspects to their organization — always seeking to instill career intentionality and independence in girls, from a young age. With this mindset, girls can make their way out of poverty, forced marriages and sexual and domestic abuse — eventually increasing the corporate talent pool of India. Seeing the success and positive impact of Avtar I-Win, Rajesh began Avtar Human Capital Trust (AHCT) in 2008, which is a charitable not-for-profit organization.

Reaching Women in Poverty

Rajesh and her team noticed that even though they helped women restart their careers; education and financial barriers prevented them from reaching all women. Headquartered in Chennai, AHCT addresses gender inequality across the states of Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry — providing financial help for women and students in underprivileged communities. By doing so, AHCT allows women to focus on preparing and aspiring for professional careers.

With the support of companies willing to hire more women, AHCT and Avtar I-Win have launched programs such as Project Puthri and FLEXI Careers in India. Project Puthri focuses on helping girls from a young age, so they can graduate with the purpose of attaining corporate jobs. The organization’s current goal is to help 10,000 girls per year across Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry. The board believes that with more women contributing to India’s GDP, the country will become more prosperous and communities will rise out of poverty. FLEXI Careers supports this mission through diversity and inclusion consulting. The organization focuses on an array of services to make the corporate world an inclusive workplace for women from underprivileged communities.

Female Empowerment and the Future

Saundaraya Rajesh founded her organization on helping and believing in women from communities of poverty. Yet, she understood that women needed assistance in obtaining careers for which many (especially family-oriented women in poverty) experienced great barriers to entry. Along with other pioneers in workplace inclusivity, Rajesh is uplifting women through economic empowerment in India — introducing programs on technology, economic empowerment, health and hygiene education for women who need extra support to succeed in the corporate world.

Sumeet Waraich
Photo: Pxhere