information and stories about India.

Mental Health in India
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the crisis regarding mental health in India to the forefront. COVID-19 has led to various versions of isolation and insecurities for many Indian citizens.

Amid this crisis, the Indian Psychiatric Society’s survey has noted a significant increase in reported mental illness since the lockdown. This is an opportunity for the country to rework its mental healthcare system for its diverse population. The pandemic has affected the poor the most. The World Health Organization (WHO) has stated that mental health illness and poverty have a cyclical relationship in that extreme poverty triggers mental illness, which leads to further financial crises.

Government Initiatives

The government of India launched the National Mental Health Programme (NMHP) in 1982 and the Mental Health Care Act in 2017. The National Mental Health Programme focused mainly on increasing the reach of minimum mental health services for the poor. This encourages social development in general healthcare. After a gap of more than 20 years, the Mental Health Care Act mandated affordable mental health care, the right to make decisions and informed consent, the right to live in a community and the right to confidentiality. This Act more importantly decriminalized suicide.

The Mental Health Care Act is a step in the right direction with the aim of bringing mental healthcare to those who cannot afford it. Yet, almost 14% of the population still suffers from mental health disorders. While stigma and social stereotypes play a major role in the aggravation of these numbers, the nation’s budget invests very little into mental health. India as a developing country, spends only 0.05% of its subtotal health care budget on mental health.

De-stigmatizing Awareness

A study from 2017 suggested that 87% of the population was aware of mental illness and that 71% inculcated terms that propagate stigma. In 2015, Bollywood and Hollywood actress Deepika Padukone talked about her battle with depression on Indian television. By speaking about her struggles, she started a conversation about mental health in the nation. She also founded the Live Love Laugh Foundation which facilitates research and outreach on various levels. The Live Love Laugh Foundation provides free mental health care to the rural poor, educates caregivers and creates a community of awareness in rural Karnataka and Orissa. As of now, close to 3,000 direct beneficiaries have received treatment through the Foundation.

Organizations like The MINDS Foundation, Manas Foundation, The Banyan and Aasra along with many others are key in de-stigmatizing mental health in India. They often work as gap-fillers in a system that is out of reach for many. The World Health Organization (WHO) noted in a report in 2017 that there are less than two mental health professionals for every 100,000 people in the country. The Banyan, with its branches in Kerala, Tami Nadu and Maharashtra is an NGO that focuses on holistic mental health solutions for those who live in poverty in these states. It has over 16 centers and has reached a population of over 100,000.

Tele-health Initiatives

Universities, nonprofits and several hospitals have facilitated workshops, online counseling sessions and helplines. Tele-health calls have helped to bridge the gap between those who would normally shy away from in-person visits. However, it has been detrimental to those who lack access to these online facilities. The rural poor in India do not own the technology to be able to access facilities like e-prescriptions or telehealth calls. The transition of online healthcare into rural areas in India is a promising developmental venture.

Community-based Approaches

India’s allocated mental healthcare budget and prevalent social stigma surrounding it have emerged as the two major problem areas. Encouraging studies have paved the way for a community-oriented approach to practicing psychosocial therapy in the country. This will entail training community-based healthcare workers to serve as supervised non-specialist mental healthcare workers by following standard protocols. Sangath, an NGO based in Goa, New Delhi and Bhopal, is implementing this model through its programs. Sangath provides affordable mental healthcare by strengthening state and private sector services by training the community. Sangath is also working with policymakers to further develop as well as implement this model of care.

Resources During COVID-19

The India Research Center of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health has recounted a few tips for mental well-being during the pandemic. Mindfulness, breathing exercises, meditation, limiting news consumption, generosity and empathy are practices that are effective along with other useful resources that the school emphasizes. Here is a list of numbers one can contact during a mental health emergency in India.

In a country as plural as India, innovative approaches are essential factors of growth. The nation has a long way to go in order to climb up on the mental health and well-being ladder. However, NGOs and foundations are paving the way toward improved mental health in India.

– Anuja Mukherjee
Photo: Flickr

Problems in Rural India
Despite the country’s soaring GDP, India is home to almost a quarter of the world’s poor population. Although India lifted 270 million people out of poverty between 2006 and 2016, 270 million more people continue to live below the global poverty line. The extreme poverty that India’s poor faces disproportionately affects rural populations and women, who receive fewer opportunities in education, healthcare and employment.

Named after the goddess of education, nonprofit Bani Mandir works to elevate people in India’s most vulnerable communities by solving problems in rural India. The organization, based in West Bengal, India, aims to address the root causes of poverty, particularly in rural areas and among women. By providing solutions to education inequality, access to healthcare and women’s opportunities, Bani Mandir empowers India’s rural poor.

Education

One of the root causes of poverty is a lack of education. Access to education is integral to lifting people out of poverty, as education reduces inequality and drastically improves the opportunities students obtain as they age. In India, where 45% of the poor population is illiterate, improving access to education in rural areas is vital.

Girls in India, particularly those living in poverty, face additional barriers when it comes to attending school. India gave girls the right to education in 2009. However, many girls are still unable to attend school due to housework responsibilities, stigma and health concerns. The lack of girls in school contributes to fewer women in the workforce. Women make up only 25% of the labor force in India.

To increase enrollment of girls and students from rural areas, Bani Mandir has provided education for more than 10,000 students, maintaining equal representation between girls and boys. Bani Mandir also helps children receive sufficient nutrition support and trains teachers in effective teaching practices. These advancements are improving the quality of education for a larger number of students.

Access to Healthcare

In India, rural communities receive significantly less access to healthcare. Due to the lack of health facilities and insufficient awareness about the benefits of healthcare, many workers in rural communities are unwilling to sacrifice a day’s wages to attend a healthcare visit. Additionally, women in India receive less access to healthcare than men. In a 2019 study, men and boys were two times as likely to visit a healthcare facility. The study also found that many women who should have seen a doctor did not.

To improve access to healthcare in India’s vulnerable communities, Bani Mandir offers comprehensive healthcare programs. Women make up 60% of those benefiting from Bani Mandir’s health services. Bani Mandir’s 23 health projects served more than 3,500 people living in rural villages and slums. The organization also arranged more than 100 health camps to address immediate medical needs. Finally, Bani Mandir partners with schools to provide health programs to students. Its work is encouraging students to seek healthcare and to grow up in a culture where going to the doctor is standard practice.

Women’s Empowerment

Since many women are often denied access to education and healthcare, their employment opportunities are limited. Furthermore, employment is not a guarantee of equal treatment. In fact, pay inequalities result in men making 65% more than women for the same labor. Although gender equality in India is a constitutional right, many women are unaware of their rights and of the ways they can support themselves financially.

Bani Mandir offers more than 375 self-help groups across 30 villages and supports more than 15,000 women and girls to help eliminate problems in rural India. These women’s empowerment groups educate women about their rights, organize finances and offer loans for small businesses, encouraging female entrepreneurs. Bani Mandir also aims to change societal perceptions and stigmas against women by educating broader communities. Bani Mandir’s programs are educating upwards of 10,000 community members about women’s rights issues.

By addressing the problems in rural India pertaining to poverty, such as education, healthcare and women’s opportunities, Bani Mandir is inciting change across entire communities and improving the lives of rural populations. The organization also offers services that improve sanitation, care for the elderly and support for abandoned children. With its wide scope, Bani Mandir is providing countless examples of concrete ways to create change. To build upon the positive change that Bani Mandir and other nonprofits have inspired, the Indian government should sharpen its laws around gender equality to ensure that women and girls obtain adequate access to employment, healthcare and education.

Melina Stavropoulos
Photo: Unsplash

Internal Displacement of the Kashmiri Pandits
The Kashmiri Pandits have become the largest internally displaced group in India. In 1989, a militant insurgency broke out in Kashmir, a disputed region in northern India. The Kashmiri Pandits (KP), a Hindu minority population, were targeted by Muslim insurgency groups and terrorized into leaving their ancestral homes. After three decades of displacement, many Kashmiri Pandits continue to live in migrant camps with little means of livelihood or access to basic services. For more information on the internal displacement of the Kashmiri Pandits, The Borgen Project interviewed Dr. Sudha G. Rajput, author of “Internal Displacement and Conflict: The Kashmiri Pandits in Comparative Perspective.”

A Protracted Problem

More than 90% of KPs became internally displaced by the conflict, and the majority of the population relocated to urban areas such as Jammu and New Delhi, India’s capital city. After initial displacement, KPs were given what was supposed to be short-term accommodation in migrant camps on the outskirts of cities. However, the majority of the population continues to live in these confined settlements.

Migrant camps were initially assembled with tents, tarps and other make-shift materials, though most transitioned to multi-story complexes in “township-like” settlements during the second decade of displacement. Although living conditions have improved, these complexes are owned by the government and allocated to families temporarily, leaving residents with little autonomy and no property rights.

Although most families have been able to transition to these new settlements, some continue to live in the initial tent-like structures or converted community halls. In these situations, Kashmiri Pandits endure crowded and unsanitary conditions with no running water or access to basic amenities.

Admitting Permanence

Dr. Rajput met with a Kashmiri Pandit family in one of the converted community centers in Delhi, where families had divided up a large hall into areas separated with curtains and cardboard boxes. “From the appearance, it seemed they had just moved yesterday,” she says, “but I came to find out this family had been living in these conditions for over 20 years.”

Dr. Rajput also notes that for many IDP populations around the world, the initial interpretation of a situation determines all future policies down the line. For KPs, the narrative of their “temporary” crisis has persisted for three decades. Most policymakers in India claim the internal displacement of the Kashmiri Pandits is still a temporary issue. “The moment you admit permanence, you have to provide permanent, sustainable policies,” explains Rajput. “If the government claims a situation is temporary, they need not provide long-term housing, education or healthcare.”

Impact on Health

The lasting trauma of displacement, as well as poor living conditions, have caused premature aging. Additionally, communities still living in overcrowded camps suffer from a large number of tuberculosis and pneumonia cases. Many Pandits continue to carry deep psychological traumas as well, and disorders like depression, insomnia, schizophrenia and phobias have become prevalent.

Displaced KPs have been cut off from their homeland and with it their cultural legacies. For many, living in exile feeds humiliation and insecurity that is heightened by the hostility of host communities. “The moment a person is displaced, all aspects of humanity change,” Dr. Rajput explains. “You are forever preoccupied with making sense of why your displacement occurred and how to fit into a new society.”

Impact on Employment and Education

The internal displacement of the Kashmiri Pandits has significantly affected their economic prosperity and employment opportunities. Families were forced to leave behind houses, shops and agricultural land, as well as their occupations and businesses. The government has allotted many KP business owners temporary shops, enabling them to regain their previous means of livelihood. However, many camp dwellers struggle to find employment and remain dependent on government-provided rations and cash relief.

Education for the Kashmiri Pandit community was also heavily disrupted by initial displacement, meaning many students lost years of their studies while living in makeshift migrant camps. However, the central government of India has provided free education to all displaced KP children by allotting at least 12 spaces for IDPs in public schools. Many parents are grateful for the level of education their children have received in large metropolitan societies like Delhi, which would not have been possible in small Kashmiri villages.

Hope for the Future

During the onset of the displacement crisis many NGOs assisted the KPs. However, as their displacement has become increasingly protracted, many have completed their humanitarian missions and moved on to other projects. As there are now limited initiatives focused solely on the displaced population, KPs have taken matters into their own hands and started various community groups.

One of the most well known is All India Kashmiri Samaj (AIKS), an advocacy organization campaigning for the representation of Pandits as well as the protection of their socio-cultural identities. AIKS provides economic relief, employment, educational opportunities and scholarships to KP communities. Its reach has broadened to KPs around the world, as well as those displaced in India.

Moving forward, Dr. Rajput believes the narrative of host communities towards internally displaced KPs must change. Host populations often perceive Pandit communities as threatening their livelihoods and taking away precious state resources. In reality, KPs have contributed economically to these societies by bringing new consumers and investors into Delhi and Jammu City. “We cannot change situations, but we can change our mindsets,” Rajput explains. “Changing the narrative is what will bring hope.”

– Claire Brenner
Photo: Flickr

Farmer Suicide in India
Punjab, a northern state in India, which produces 20% of the country’s wheat and 11% of its rice, is largely agrarian. That is, its economy depends primarily on the agricultural sector. Despite being revered as India’s Ann-Daatas (Food Providers), the farmers of Punjab oftentimes struggle to put food on their plates. This, at times, tragically leads to farmer suicide in India.

The Situation

Rising farm debts have been a problem in the state for several decades now. However, in recent years, with higher costs of living, policy change, water scarcity and higher costs of a lease of land rentals — there has been a crisis of farmer suicides in India (particularly in Punjab). Making matters worse, the ongoing climate crisis has resulted in increased crop fires and lower annual precipitation — offering greater devastation.

Punjabi University, Patiala, Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar and Punjab Agriculture University (PAU) and Ludhiana’s joint research indicates that the crisis began in the early ’90s and drastically increased over the last three decades.

The Culprit: High Cost of Land

According to the Government of Punjab’s data, 3,300 farmers in Punjab have committed suicide in the years 2000–2019, with 97% of them being reported only from the Malwa region. Of these 3,300 deaths, 1,500 farmers took their lives since 2016, according to data from the Bhartiya Kisan Union (Ugrahan). That is almost 50% of the 19-year total, stretched across just four years; a very clear indicator of crisis.

The Farmer suicide crisis in India (Punjab) centers mainly in Malwa due to the drastically risen costs of lease land rentals. This, in turn, disproportionately affected the farmers in this region as the populous is mainly small or marginal farmers (1–5 acres of land). Reports from the Indian Express indicate that the average annual costs of lease land rentals are 50,000–65,000 Rs/acre in Malwa in comparison with only 30,000–45,000 Rs/acre in the Doaba and Majha regions.

Since the farmers only make roughly 32,000-36,000 Rs/acre per crop, 73–95% of the annual crop earnings are spent on renting the land. Further, it is far more difficult for farmers to take on alternative employment occupations in Malwa than it is in other regions.

Possible Solutions Suggested by Experts

  1. “Waiving farm loans at least once;
  2. Providing compensation to the tune of 10 [Rs] lakh to each family that loses a farmer or farm labourer to suicide;
  3. Continuation of free power;
  4. Crop diversification;
  5. Insurance for crops and health of farmers and labourers;
  6. Development of [a] dairy sector;
  7. Profitable employment for one family member of farmers and labourers;
  8. Old-age pension to farmers and labourers;
  9. Streamlining of [a] banking sector; and
  10. Curtailing unscrupulous activities of micro-finance agencies and moneylenders etc.”

Additional Problems Facing Punjab

Currently, Punjab faces a series of very serious crises. For example, a water scarcity crisis, a farmer suicide crisis, a poor water quality crisis, an inflation crisis and a new policy change crisis that could result in lesser government support for farmers. Perhaps needless to say, Punjab can use all the help it can obtain. The current Covid-19 pandemic only made things worse for farmers in Punjab as a nationwide lockdown resulted in little to no earnings. Moreover, with a piling debt, more cases of farmer suicide in India emerged.

An Organization Offering Help

However, the increasing number of organizations working to provide relief is a sign of hope. Organizations like Sahaita offer programs where you can support a family in Punjab for only $500 per year. If more people in the West supported programs like this, we could help these organizations keep Punjab evergreen.

Jasmeen Bassi
Photo: Flickr

Indian Migrant Workers
As COVID-19 spreads throughout India, it is revealing the country’s systematic inequalities as Indian migrant workers bear the brunt of the pandemic.

The Lockdown

India’s national lockdown began on March 25, 2020. It went into effect a mere four hours after the prime minister of India, Narendra Modi, made the announcement. However, Modi’s order did not consider the impact it would have on migrant workers. As a result, millions of migrant workers were jobless and stranded in cities all across the country. Shareen Joshi, a professor at Georgetown University, spoke to The Borgen Project. Joshi described how the lockdown “appears to have been imposed to benefit India’s middle and upper classes in urban areas. It literally ‘forgot’ about 350 million migrant workers.”

Consequently, thousands of migrants had to make the dangerous journey home. With public transportation shut down, some walked hundreds of miles, often without proper protective gear or the ability to practice social distancing.

“The virus is basically systematically exposing inequalities and fault-lines in every country it seems to enter,” Joshi said.

The Pandemic Highlights Underlying Inequalities

Indian migrant workers are already a vulnerable population. They rarely belong to trade unions or work under contracts. Additionally, many migrants lack the bank accounts necessary to secure government benefits. Although the Indian government offers welfare for those below the poverty line, migrant workers often do not know how to access this relief.

Indian migrant workers were among the first to feel the economic consequences of the virus. An April 2020 report by the nonprofit organization Jan Sahas, titled Voices of the Invisible Citizens, stated that “90% laborers (approx.) have already lost their source of income” within just three weeks. This complete financial depletion left, “42% of labourers” with “no ration left even for the day, let alone for the duration of the lockdown.”

The virus has also aggravated discrimination against Indian migrant workers. Joshi stated that migrant workers represent their own “scheduled castes” within India’s caste system. Many consider migrant workers as possible carriers of the virus. Fearing infection, their communities shun them upon their return home.

Rebuilding the Economy and Addressing Inequities

As India begins to rebuild its economy, Joshi recommends “a bottom-up strategy, people-centric rather than money-centric.” This strategy would have the government invest in individual villages to create a trickle-up effect.

Moreover, this strategy would aid the Indian migrant workers. In March 2020, the president of the Indian National Congress, Sonia Gandhi, proposed that district collectors help migrants who cannot afford shelter and that the government provide transportation for migrants to get home. Joshi described a proposal to make ration cards portable. This would allow migrants to “access food in both the location they are registered and the area where they work.”

While this pandemic has brought unthinkable suffering to Indian migrant workers, it may also inspire a new fight for equality. Meenakshi Ganguly, the South Asia director of the Human Rights Watch, believes the pandemic might provide “an opportunity to end communal bias and­­­ other discrimination in governance and restore the impartiality of state institutions.” This pandemic has shown, if nothing else, the need to address the inequalities that have plagued India.

Jessica Blatt
Photo: Flickr

SDG Goal 9 in India
The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development were officially affected on January 1, 2016, including 169 targets. The effective plan aspires to improve the world in its endeavors, without causing environmental harm by 2030. The ninth goal focuses on industry, innovation and infrastructure. More specifically, this means building more resilient infrastructure, promoting inclusive and sustainable industrialization and fostering innovation. Regarding the countries working to implement these goals, there are updates on SDG Goal 9 in India.

Challenges with Industry and Infrastructure

The trade industry is crucial to have a prosperous economy with job growth, firm partnership and a wider variety of product availability. The quality of trade and transport infrastructure has not improved. It has remained at a steady ranking of 2.91 out of five. Manufacturing has remained stationary and has not experienced any growth. This particular industry also has the opportunity to contribute to economic prosperity. India’s industrial growth rate shows these determinants, which has decreased by 0.8% from 2016 to 2019. India’s industries as a whole also produce lots of hazardous waste as well as water waste, which contradicts the idea of sustainability.

Challenges with Innovation

An increase in the research and development budget is crucial for scientific innovation. However, the expenditure on research and development has made no recent improvements, remaining at 0.6% to 0.7%. As of 2018, the number of scientific or technical journal articles published has a ranking of 0.10 in comparison to 0.9 in 2017, and the goal is to rank at 1.2. Nuclear technology, nanotechnology and technology-driven Green Revolution are all fields with massive growth potential. Nonetheless, this would require an increase in the research and development sector controlled by the public sector.

Improvements in Innovation

Education and universities have a massive role in consistently contributing to the innovation of their country, and India has already made improvements. As of 2020, India’s top three universities scored 44.9 through the World University Rankings. This is very close to the final goal of reaching a score of 50. The accessibility to information and, therefore, the betterment of education for all has also progressed through widespread internet access. India’s population using the internet has grown from 17% in 2015 to 34.45% in 2017. It has doubled since the implementation of the sustainable development goals.

Improvements in Infrastructure

There has been a massive success in providing accessibility for the many rural areas within India. As of 2017, 70% targeted rural areas to give them access to all-weather roads. Generally speaking, the overall construction of national highways has more than doubled, going from 4,410 kilometers in 2015 to 10,824 kilometers in 2019. This is a massive increase in attention to infrastructure and what it can do for a country’s connectivity. 12 significant ports’ capacity to handle cargo has improved by 84% from 2015 to 2019. This provides the potential for trade and shipment performance to be at a much higher level.

Improvements in Industry

Furthermore, to meet SDG Goal 9 in India, it has focused on making the business industry easier to enter, encouraging new businesses and growth. The country has implemented business reform to improve its rank within the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business. As a result, in 2019, it ranked 63rd in comparison to 2015’s 142nd world ranking. Product development and design have also massively increased. The number of design patents quadrupled from 2015 to 2019. This is a precursor to industry growth.

Overall, there have been massive strides toward reaching SDG Goal 9 in India. It has averaged a gross domestic product growth of 7.2% between the years 2018 and 2019. India has also upheld not only the goal of improving the industry, innovation and infrastructure but of keeping it sustainable and environmentally friendly. It successfully managed to have one of the lowest per capita carbon emissions in the world.

– Adelle Tippetts
Photo: Flickr


When most Indians think about the rainy season, they think about the viable crops that will grow and the economic prosperity that will ensue. The rainy season takes on a completely different meaning, however, for one of India’s most overlooked groups: the homeless. Homelessness in India is a significant problem on its own, with an estimated 1.8 million homeless people living on the streets. When this large homeless population endures months of exposure to rain and winds, health complications and even deaths can occur. Due to its detrimental effects on health, homelessness during India’s rainy season is a significant issue to address.

Housing Shortages

In addition to India’s homeless population, another 73 million families lack access to sufficient housing. Many families have recently lost their homes as a result of forced evictions. In 2017, the national government tore down more than 53,700 homes. Approximately 260,000 people were forcefully evicted due to motives like city beautification projects and infrastructure development. Many of the evicted will now have no choice but to endure the hardships accompanying the rainy season.

India’s Rainy Season

India’s rainy season lasts from June to September. Rain and wind are very frequent, with some areas in central or western India receiving approximately 90% of their total annual precipitation during this time period. Southern and northwestern India tend to receive between 50-75% of their annual precipitation during these months. In 2005, the monsoons were intense enough to trigger floods throughout the country. These floods marooned villages and affected more than 800,000 people.

Homelessness During the Rainy Season

Homelessness in India actually increases during the rainy season. In August 2018, the Times of India reported floods left 54,000 homeless. As more people suffer these poor weather conditions, the homeless population increases.

During monsoon season, the homeless face increased difficulties. Homeless shelters often close during the summer months, leaving many to endure the hazardous weather conditions. Even if homeless people were able to find shelter during this season, they would still be forced to spend a significant amount of time on the streets in order to feed and maintain themselves financially.

Julia Wardhaugh, a senior lecturer in criminology and criminal justice at Bangor University, who has researched homelessness in India, stated, “Even if some shelter is found, then subsistence has to be on the streets, finding casual work (e.g. recycling materials) or begging for alms.” She also went on to note that “the health consequences could be severe, especially for vulnerable adults and for children.”

Unfortunately, data on this topic is limited, largely because it is difficult for the government to keep record of the homeless. As a result, their deaths are hard to track. One study, however, examined the deaths of homeless and unclaimed people in North India between 2008 and 2012. The study ultimately found that the majority of reported deaths occurred during the rainy season.

Finding Solutions

In response to persistent homelessness in India that is often worsened by the rainy season, several organizations are working to provide aid. Aashray Adhikar Abhiyan (AAA) is an organization working in Dehli to advocate homeless people’s rights and provide basic necessities such as food, clothes and shelter. AAA has provided more than 12 million beds, as well as health care to one million homeless Indians.

URJA Trust is an organization seeking to protect the rights of homeless women in India. The group has brought more than 400 women out of homelessness and into safe spaces, offered mental health support to more than 300 women and raised awareness of female homelessness in civil society.

Salaam Baalak Trust is an NGO that works to support homeless children. The organization conducts a variety of initiatives aimed at improving the lives of homeless children, including educational activities, outreach events and mental health programs. So far, they’ve supported 108,014 children.

 

Although homelessness during India’s rainy season is a significant contributor to the struggles faced by thousands, it is often overlooked. The lack of research on the effects of prolonged exposure to dangerous weather suggests the country has yet to fully acknowledged the gravity of this issue. However, once this aspect is further studied and understood as well, there is hope for alleviating poverty in India and improving life for millions.

– Sophia Gardner
Photo: Flickr

poverty and pollutionPollution impacts people’s air, water and food worldwide. In general, pollution affects impoverished individuals the most. Many individuals in developing countries already struggle to find clean water, edible food and good healthcare. Unfortunately,  pollution only exacerbates these pre-existing issues. The city of Nairobi, Kenya is a prime example of this. Its largest garbage dump surrounds and pollutes churches, schools, shops and places of business. As such, poverty and pollution are closely related. Eliminating pollution may be able to help eradicate global poverty. 

Poverty and Pollution

Runoff from factories, farms and towns has made drinking water sources dangerous because of contamination. In some places, the effects of pollution also decrease the crop yield and increase food prices, as runoff also contaminates farm land. Additionally, imported food products are often tainted with bacteria, thus making these food products dangerous for consumption. These circumstances could increase the number of people suffering from malnutrition, especially in developing countries. Poverty and pollution are therefore connected through causation: high food prices and food insecurity can both contribute to poverty. Indeed, pollution could contribute to the number of people living in global poverty increasing by 100,000 million.   

Pollution and Hunger

There are currently 815 million people around the world suffering from chronic undernourishment. Importantly, one of the main causes of malnourishment and undernourishment is contaminated food. India, for example, lost an estimated 24 million tons of wheat in one year due to an airborne pollutant. More recently, India may also lose 50% of its rice production because of the same pollutant. On a global scale, studies have found that air pollutants decrease the production of staple crops like wheat, rice, maize and soybeans from 5% to 12%. Experts estimate that this is equivalent to the loss of up to 227 million tons of crops, which equals $20 billion in global revenue lost.

However, food is also becoming contaminated through industrial runoff in the ground. Pollution via industrial run-off affects crops in sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia and South America. In these regions, access to foods that are high in nutrients is low and irrigation runoff is high. Runoff especially impacts Africa, where farmers depend on subsistence farming to feed themselves and their families.

Both of these types of pollution can increase food insecurity and hunger. In these conditions, individuals cannot use their land to grow clean food for themselves and their families. Worldwide, 33% of children who come from middle- to low-income countries already endure chronic malnutrition. This contributes to the fact that 45% of all children’s deaths are due to undernutrition or a related cause. Furthermore, there are at minimum 17 million children worldwide who are acutely malnourished, resulting in the death of two million children each year. Thus, pollution and poverty are related through the issue of hunger, which is fatal for children around the world.  

Pollution Clouds the Water

Unfortunately, pollution does not only amplify the issue of hunger, it also contributes to a lack of clean water. Globally, 844 million people do not have regular access to clean water. The vast majority of these people live in extreme poverty. In Uganda alone, there are 28 million people who cannot readily access clean water. These Ugandans must drink water polluted by sewage, mudslide debris and other contaminants.

Due to these conditions, 70% of all diagnosed diseases are directly linked to unclean water and poor sanitation and hygiene methods. These diseases include hepatitis, typhoid, cholera, diarrhea and dysentery. Unfortunately, these diseases kill 3.4 million people each year, 43% of whom are children younger than five. In Uganda, these illnesses force 25% of children to stop attending school each year. 

Poverty and pollution are directly related through water pollution. On a global scale, the world loses $18 billion when people are to sick with waterborne illnesses to work. Additionally, the time many people must spend finding water results in missed economic opportunities valued at over $24 billion worldwide. 

The Fight Against Pollution

Thankfully, many organizations are addressing these pressing connections between poverty and pollution. The Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), based at M.I.T., received a $25 million gift from King Philanthropies to combat many issues that both poverty and pollution create. It plans to do so by launching the King Climate Action Initiative (K-CAI). The K-CAI focuses explicitly on helping those who live in extreme poverty. Its aims include reducing carbon emissions, reducing pollution, acclimating to the climate change and transitioning toward cleaner energy.

The K-CAI plans to accomplish these goals by creating and evaluating many smaller projects. Once the K-CAI determines which projects are the most impactful, it will implement them in impoverished countries on a large scale. Thus far, J-PAL has focused on improving the production of food, education, policy and healthcare in impoverished countries. K-CAI is using J-PAL’s successes to help determine the most efficient ways to achieve these goals 

The correlation between poverty and pollution is clear and direct. As such, pollution can make the fight to end global poverty more challenging. However, with promising initiatives such as the K-CAI, the global battle against pollution and poverty seem like a much easier feat. Defeating pollution will give the world a much-needed advantage in ending global poverty once and for all. 

Amanda Kuras
Photo: Flickr

Akshar SchoolEducation is one of the most important catalysts for the alleviation of poverty. It equips individuals with valuable knowledge, skills, talents, resources and networks. Although education plays a remarkable role in dictating the future of an individual, not everyone has equal access to education. The Akshar School, also known as the Akshar Forum, strives to combat unequal access to education in India by providing all students with an equal opportunity to attend school.

Education in India

India is home to the second-largest number of impoverished people in the world. However, its large and increasing population of youth presents an opportunity for economic development for the entire Indian population. In India, children must attend school from the ages of six to 14 years old. Although India’s education system includes government-funded public schools, many parents prefer to send their children to private schools.

During the 2010-2011 and 2014-2015 academic years, enrollment in India’s public schools decreased by 11.1 million. At the same time, enrollment in India’s private schools increased by 16 million. Private schools that charge low fees have seen an especially large increase in enrollment, particularly from low-income families. This is largely because most Indian private schools offer English as a core feature of their curriculum, unlike India’s public schools.

This increase in enrollment in private schools also reflects the poor quality of India’s public school system. Low-income families prefer to pay tuition in order to send their children to schools where they will receive a quality education, hoping that this education will allow them to escape poverty.

The Akshar School

The Akshar School, a private school located in Assam, India, is revolutionizing the Indian education system. It allows students from low-income families to receive a quality education in exchange for plastic waste.

Wife and husband Parmita Sarma and Mazin Mukhtar founded the school in 2016. They were tired of smelling burnt plastic and toxic waste in their classrooms, produced by families living nearby their school trying to eliminate waste. The couple then decided to ask the students at their school to pay their tuition in the form of plastic waste. Tuition for the school is equivalent to 25 pieces of plastic waste collected from a student’s community.

The school then recycles the collected waste into new items, like eco-bricks, at its recycling center. The center offers paid jobs to older teenagers attending the school hoping to also earn an income. Many of these teenagers come from low-income families that depend on their children for an additional source of income, though it is illegal in India for children under the age of 14 to work. In this sense, the Akshar School ensures that older children are able to stay in school and also earn an income for their families.

The students at the school have performed exceptionally well, especially during the most recent year academic year. In addition to affordable tuition, the Akshar School employs older teenagers as coaches for younger children, providing younger children with individualized help that their regular class teachers may not always be able to offer. This program also enables teenagers to gain a source of income, leadership skills and the opportunity to strengthen their own academic skills.

The Akshar Foundation: Expanding Its Reach

Sarma and Mukhtar’s nonprofit organization, the Akshar Foundation, aims to open up 100 schools similar to the Akshar School. Given that attendance at the Akshar School has risen by 500%, they plan to follow the same model for new schools. In addition, the Akshar Foundation intends to offer opportunities for technology-based learning, vocational training, environmental conservation, community leadership and involvement and entrepreneurship. It also plans to offer an its own fellowship for all students in the new schools.

The Akshar Foundation’s educational model attempts to combat the cycle of intergenerational poverty that many Indian families face. By providing all children with an equal opportunity to attain a quality education, the Akshar Foundation presents a model that the Indian government itself should consider adopting and implementing. Given its population and notable economic progress, India has the potential to alleviate much of its existing poverty in the upcoming years. However, India must recognize that education is one of the most important components in ensuring economic stability, progress and overall wellbeing.

Stacy Moses
Photo: Flickr

Dental Health in IndiaOral health issues are significant in India since the country has one of the highest rates of oral cancers in the world. Dental diseases in India are a result of many factors, including poor oral hygiene, tobacco use and a sugary diet. Additionally, the lack of awareness about the importance of dental health in India leads to the prevalence of dental health issues. These issues include dental caries and periodontal disease as well as inequality in the distribution of oral healthcare workers. Routine dental appointments are a solution to many dental health issues. However, with 72% of Indians living in villages, many are unable to access proper care.

Statistics on Dental Health in India

In India, about 85% to 90% of adults have dental cavities, along with about 60 to 80% of children. Also, around 30% of children have misaligned jaws and teeth. Over 50% of Indians with dental health issues receive treatment or advice from someone other than a dentist, such as chemists. About 51% of Indians use a toothbrush and toothpaste to brush their teeth. Around 28% brush their teeth the recommended two times a day. Therefore, access to information about dental health and how to properly maintain one’s oral health would prevent many issues and improve the overall state of dental health in India.

The Impact of Tobacco

Tobacco use, in any form, can lead to many health issues such as cancer, pulmonary diseases and cardiovascular diseases. Smokeless tobacco can cause a gingival recession and nicotine addiction, which only results in further health issues. Every year, about one million people die from tobacco use in India, and around 34.6% of adults consume tobacco, with 52% exposed to secondhand smoke. Furthermore, tobacco cessation, as opposed to prevention, could save many lives potentially lost to tobacco use in India.

Solutions

The Indian Dental Association (IDA) created the National Oral Health Program. Its purpose is to improve the overall health of the country by targeting oral health. The program’s initial mission includes providing optimal oral health for all by 2020. It also included decreasing the number of deaths and consequences due to oral diseases.

Under the program, the IDA implemented the Tobacco Intervention Initiative (TII) to eliminate tobacco use by influencing lifestyle changes among Indians. The TII aims to reduce the number of deaths due to tobacco consumption by spreading awareness of the effects of tobacco. Through the initiative, they will train a professional workforce to counsel people on the consequences of tobacco consumption. It will do this while aiming to have oral health professionals include tobacco intervention and prevention in their care. The IDA also founded the Oral Cancer Foundation (OCF) with the goal of the eradication of oral cancer. It plans on completing its mission by providing greater access to oral healthcare and early detection of oral cancer. It also plans on researching to gain a better understanding of how to implement prevention efforts.

Overall, there is a rising number of oral cancer cases and a prevalence of oral health issues in India. As a result, more solutions are necessary to improve the overall health of the country. Implementing changes will continue to be a challenge. However, education addressing oral health, the impact of tobacco use and equal access to dental healthcare can aid in solving many dental health issues in India.

Zoë Nichols
Photo: Flickr