information and stories about India.

AI Helps India Combat COVID-19When COVID-19 struck globally, India, like other nations worldwide, experienced a high volume of citizens infected with the coronavirus. By the end of May 2020, more than 150,000 Indian people tested positive for COVID-19. As a result, the country’s leaders not only wanted to curb the rising numbers of COVID-19 cases but also wanted to address misinformation. To combat the COVID-19 “infodemic,” the Indian government needed a tool that could provide regularly updated COVID-19 guidance to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 throughout the country. For instance, MyGov Saathi shows how AI helps India combat COVID-19.

MyGov Saathi

The Indian government’s Digital India Corporation (MyGov) aimed to provide 1.3 billion people with a reliable artificial intelligence tool that provides factual and helpful guidance on COVID-19. By collaborating with Accenture and Microsoft, MyGov quickly developed an “AI-powered virtual agent” called MyGov Saathi, which means “companion” in the Hindi language. The AI tool was launched on April 24, 2020, and possesses similar abilities to Microsoft’s Power Virtual Agent and Azure.

“Self4Society” Webpage

MyGov Saathi is accessible on the Indian government’s “self4society” website where it is embedded. By managing communications automatically, more human capital is available to address “urgent and complex situations” that require human skill. Moreover, the artificial intelligence tool is able to provide “fact sheets, information on government initiatives, professional and medical advice and alerts and lists of myth busters” to address misinformation. Through MyGov Saathi, AI helps India combat COVID-19.

Extending its Reach

At first, the artificial intelligence agent only operated in English. Now, however, it communicates and offers information in Hindi and other local languages to extend its reach. In January 2021, MyGov Saathi had approximately 250,000 monthly users. The daily interactions on the platform range from hundreds to thousands. On average, over a 16-day period, MyGov Saathi has close to 600,000 “total active sessions.” AI helps India combat COVID-19 by providing individuals with speedy and valuable information to guide them through the pandemic.

COVID-19 WhatsApp Support Counter

Haptik, an artificial intelligence firm, created the MyGov Corona Helpdesk in March 2020. The “WhatsApp chatbot” operates 24/7 to answer COVID-19 questions and combat misinformation. The chatbot has capabilities such as:

  • A symptom checker and probable diagnosis function
  • Providing guidelines to prevent COVID-19 transmission
  •  Sharing up-to-date information from the Ministry of Health
  • Dispelling COVID-19 myths and misinformation
  • Sharing the contact details of the official COVID-19 hotline

By January 2021, the MyGov Corona Helpdesk served more than 25 million people and answered more than 36 million pandemic-related questions. These statistics show how AI helps India combat COVID-19.

MyGov Saathi’s Future Updates

Currently, the MyGov Saathi artificial intelligence agent only interacts with persons through a list of options. However, the country plans to update the software to “evolve from the menu model to engage in actual intuitive conversations with users.”

Overall, MyGov Saathi and MyGov Corona Helpdesk illustrate how AI helps India combat COVID-19, showing the growing importance of technology, even in unprecedented times. Above all, this demonstrates the universe of possibilities present in seemingly impossible circumstances.

– Jannique McDonald
Photo: Flickr

bodies in the GangesThe Ganges River is filled with dead bodies and lined with shallow riverside graves that dogs often dig up. According to estimates, people dug 4,000 graves along just one mile of the Ganges riverbank in Uttar Pradesh between mid-April and mid-May 2021. Families of the dead float their lost loved ones’ bodies in the Ganges or bury them on the riverbank because they cannot afford cremation, especially in the impoverished rural states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

Increased Cremation Costs

Cremation for non-COVID-19 deaths in India generally costs around 5,000 rupees, but crematoriums have raised prices for those who have died of COVID-19 to around 22,000 to 30,000 rupees. Because of the high cost of cremation, many people living in poverty are submerging their lost loved ones in the river or resort to burying bodies on the shore.

Traditionally, Hindus in India float certain bodies in the Ganges, including those of people who die of infectious diseases. Now, though, with the COVID-19 crisis causing cremation costs to soar, people are disposing even more bodies than usual in the Ganges.

Fears and Economic Costs

Some worry that the bodies in the Ganges could spread COVID-19. Experts say that the dumping of bodies may not lead to increased COVID-19 cases, but could lead to other infections from polluted drinking water. However, the Jal Shakti Ministry, an Indian government ministry focused on water, claims that the bodies have not polluted the river.

Nevertheless, fear of poor water quality and coronavirus spread has led to declining fish sales. One fisherman said, “So far we have lost Rs 50,000… No one is buying fishes because of fear.” There is no evidence that COVID-19 can spread through the consumption of fish and the only carnivorous fish in the Ganges are illegal to catch. Still, some are refusing to eat fish from the Ganges. The greater danger, though, is that the Ganges provides water for drinking, bathing and irrigation for more than 400 million people.

Governmental Recommendations

In response to the crisis of bodies in the Ganges, India’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has called for legislation addressing the dignity and rights of the dead. It has given 11 recommendations:

  1. Protecting the rights of the dead.
  2. Establishing temporary crematoriums for timely cremations.
  3. Mandating that staff learn proper procedures for the handling of dead bodies and safety equipment.
  4. Allowing last rites that do not involve touching dead bodies.
  5. Allowing local authorities to perform the appropriate last rites in the absence of family.
  6. Encouraging the use of electric crematoriums rather than funeral pyres to avoid smoke-related health hazards.
  7. Prohibiting piling of dead bodies.
  8. Prohibiting mass burial or cremation.
  9. Providing criteria for identifying bodies and protecting information about the dead.
  10. Regulating the cost of transit of the dead.
  11. Ensuring that those working with the dead receive proper pay and are a priority for vaccination.

Solutions

India’s Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) is monitoring the Ganges and its tributaries closely, liaising with state and local health departments as well as pollution agencies. After the Jal Shakti Ministry asked that governments ensure the proper disposal of bodies, the Bihar government is taking action. The National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) has also asked authorities to properly dispose of unidentified bodies and to detail the actions taken in submitted reports. The Indian government has also installed a net to catch the bodies in the Ganges.

Along with preventing the dumping of bodies in the Ganges, state agencies must prevent citizens from burying bodies in riverbanks, support cremation and provide education on the proper use of river water.

– Hilary Brown
Photo: Flickr

Agricultural Tech Startups in IndiaFarmers make up more than 40% of the working population in India. These farmers work tirelessly to provide crops for the nation and other countries worldwide. To make their lives easier, agricultural tech startups in India have been developing new systems to make farming more efficient. CropIn, DeHaat, Fasal and Intello Labs are four startups making a difference in agriculture.

CropIn by SmartFarm

First, in 2010, CropIn’s founders developed a phone application called SmartFarm to produce profit reports and weather analyses. CropIn also optimizes crop production and digitizes farm ecosystems. Moreover, the company uses artificial intelligence (AI) and the internet of things (IoT) to provide precise and accurate data for farmers using the app. The startup also utilizes other software and applications. SmartRisk, SmartWare and RootTrace are examples that target different facets of the agricultural industry, including food safety and sustainability. The company has had a tremendous impact on India so far. The company has implemented the services of the app on 13 million acres of land and helped four million farmers. Thus, the future of CropIn is hopeful.

DeHaat’s Online Community

In 2012, DeHaat came about. One of its main goals is to provide an online community for farmers in India. DeHaat presents forecast reports, daily crop reminders, inputs on profit maximization, “advice on crops, pests, soil and seeds” and several other agricultural services. By focusing on the needs of farmers, DeHaat aims to increase profitability and productivity to reduce poverty. Furthermore, the company makes accessibility a priority. It offers an application in which global users can communicate and a daily helpline for farmers without smartphones. This startup has helped more than 210,000 farmers in India and expectations determine that it will reach and serve more farmers within the coming years.

Agricultural Tech Startup Fasal

Fasal is a 2018 startup that improves accuracy within farming to increase profitability and eliminate guessing. The company developed an app to continuously monitor farm data, improving accessibility for farmers. Moreover, it created an IoT device called Fasal Sense that monitors the farm and collects data. Through AI, Fasal can deliver “farm-specific, crop-specific, crop-stage specific, actionable advisory.”

The village of Chhattisgarh is a prime example of Fasal’s success, where vegetable farmer Prasant Maroo started using the startup’s technology in 2018. Maroo noticed a 20% increase in production of two of his main crops, chilli and brinjal. By using the AI technology that Fasal provided, he was able to use less water. Water scarcity and over-irrigation are prevalent issues in Indian villages, so this factor is very promising for eliminating resource wastage. Maroo is not the only farmer who has benefited from Fasal. Fasal also allows for irrigation schedule monitoring, forecast alerts and disease management.

Digital Tech Through Intello Labs

Intello Labs began in Gurugram, India. In 2016, the company made a goal to minimize food loss in farming through digital technology. It uses “AI, ML and computer vision” to evaluate food quality in fruits and vegetables, improving the quality of goods that farmers grow, package and sell. Intello Labs developed an app that allows users to take pictures of multiple food items at a time and give feedback on the quality of the items. Users can also selectively pick the individual items desired from a batch of produce, helping to eliminate waste. Overall, the startup is increasing food quality in a cost-efficient manner within the agricultural and food industry.

The Future of India’s Agriculture

In India, farmers and their families’ livelihoods depend on agricultural success. Overall, agricultural tech startups in India, like CropIn, DeHaat, Fasal, Intello Labs and other companies, are allocating resources to yield quality food to the consumer and provide the advantages of technology to farmers in India. With these four new innovative agricultural tech startups in India changing the way the country farms, AI and IoT can supply detailed data to reduce poverty and improve farming.

– Karuna Lakhiani
Photo: Flickr

Problems and Solutions with Human Trafficking in India
With its current population of 1.3 billion people, India is the second-largest country in the world. However, with its size comes a myriad of human rights issues. With so many people in one country, many of them can easily fall under the radar. Human trafficking in India is one of the most prominent human rights issues within the country.

In India, kidnappings for labor and sexual needs have been constant. In 2020, a U.S. Department of State report identified India as a Tier 2 country. In spite of many genuine efforts, the country remains hindered by its inadequate solutions to alleviate the problem and the department feels that India did not sufficiently ensure the mitigation of the issue. Enslavement has also been a common issue. In 2016, the Global Slavery Index found that 18 million people out of 46 million people are enslaved in India.

Trafficking of Women

Within the system of human trafficking in India, most of those victimized are either women or minors. In 2016, The National Crime Records Bureau estimated that 33,855 people in India have been victims of kidnapping for the purpose of marriage. Half of this percentage consisted of individuals under 18 years of age. Kidnappers most commonly force women into commercial sex and indentured servitude.

Bride trafficking has also been a consistent commodity due to skewed sex ratios in certain areas. There has been a lack of women for the larger male population to marry, so many buy their partners. A UNODC report in 2013 found that of the 92 villages of the Indian state of Haryana, nine out of 10 households bought wives from poor villages in other parts of the country. The report also mentioned that most of the women experienced abuse and rape as well as working like slaves.

Child Kidnappings

Alongside the trade of women, many child kidnappings occur. Kidnappers force many of the victims into servitude within industries of agriculture and manufacturing. In 2016, the Central Bureau of Investigation estimated that 135,000 children become victims of human trafficking in India annually. Many of the Indian train stations, such as Sealdah in the city of Kolkata, have had reports of youth kidnapping. Due to the frantic environment of the station, most of these disappearances go unnoticed. A lot of these children either live near the station due to poverty and abuse at home or travel out to work despite the danger and illegality of child labor. Children have also experienced kidnapping during natural disasters. During an earthquake in Nepal, traffickers targeted children whose parents had lost their lives. Wherever traffickers send these children, they work in brutal conditions and receive little pay or nothing at all.

Action in Legislation

Despite the magnitude of the issue and the bleakness it presents, there are glimmers of hope. The government and the public have pushed to mitigate these problems. Prosecution and the tracking of victims are becoming a focus of legislation creation. The Ministry of Women and Child Development has worked to develop a new law to combat the issue. The draft law will include measures to make placement agencies compulsory and rules to monitor where workers are from and where they are going. The 2020 Department of Justice report recommended that increased prosecutions and legislation are necessary to combat the issues.

There are also Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) that can give outside assistance in helping trapped women escape. One such group is Chetanalaya, which is the social action group of the Archdiocese of Delhi. Started in 1970, the organization focuses on mobilizing volunteer groups and state and union governments to assist in its efforts. The group has managed to liberate more than 800 enslaved domestic workers in the past two decades.

Helping Faceless

With the rise of technology in India, many have looked to use new innovations to assist in their cause. An example of this is the app Helping Faceless. Created in 2013, it helps fight child kidnapping and trafficking through the use of search engines that use facial recognition to help find wandering youth. To assist in helping women, the website is available for anonymous documentation of sexual assaults and other horrific experiences. By 2015, 5,000 downloads had occurred and the app continues to grow with attempts to improve the technology. Moreover, some are proposing to bring it to other countries that have similar human rights issues.

Going Forward

While the current issues regarding human trafficking in India are immense, the information and technology available can help alleviate the problem. Looking into a problem is one of the best steps in creating a good future and, while it may take a while, there is reason to hope. With the large population in the country, there are many individuals who have survived these experiences and are ready to fight to ensure that others will not endure them.

– John Dunkerley
Photo: Flickr

Water Pollution in IndiaIndia is infamous for its heavily polluted air. However, with up to 80% of its water contaminated, water pollution in India is just as prevalent and dangerous. Polluted waterways affect the standard of living of many Indian families, especially those within impoverished communities. Additionally, contaminated water creates unsustainable environments for aquatic life. Toxic waste such as discarded plastic and domestic sewage is damaging the fishing industry, which makes up a large portion of India’s economy. In an effort to combat water pollution, the Indian state of Kerala has started an initiative to recycle ocean plastic into materials for road construction, saving the jobs of fishermen and protecting the environment.

Water Pollution’s Impact on Livelihoods

Urban areas in India generate approximately 62,000 million liters per day (MLD) of sewage water. With the capacity to only treat 23,277 MLD, more than 70% of the sewage in urban areas does not receive treatment. The untreated waste often ends up in nearby water bodies such as the River Ganges, one of 10 rivers accounting for “90% of the plastic pollution that ends up at sea.”

Because of the water pollution, India’s rivers are in a dire state and citizens suffer health and economic impacts. The pollutants entering the water leave it contaminated and unsafe to consume. In 2018, more than 163 million people in India did not have a source of safe drinking water, leading to people relying on rivers for drinking water.

The polluted water also affects the fish that rely on healthy bacteria to survive. As a result, incidents of mass fish deaths are increasing at an alarming rate. Without fish in India’s waterways, millions of people will be out of work. As of 2020, India ranks third globally in fishery production and the fishing industry employs more than 145 million people.

Small-scale fisheries, which supply 55% of the total fish production, are critical for reducing poverty and food scarcity in local communities. Freshwater fisheries also help improve water quality and soil conditions on land, positively aiding agriculture. For this reason, water pollution in India is harmful to the agriculture and aquaculture industries.

Repurposing Plastic Pollution

Concerned for their futures, fishermen in Kerala, India, are taking part in an environmental initiative to keep their waters clean. In 2017, the local government put out an order to minimize water pollution. Fishermen in Kerala have answered the call. Kerala relies substantially on the fishing industry, which brings in approximately $14 million in revenue.

The government passed the Suchitwa Sagaram (Clean Sea) project, requiring harbor authorities to distribute nylon bags to fishermen so that they can store the plastic pollution that gets caught in their nets instead of throwing it back into the sea. Construction companies buy the collected plastic in shredded form and use it to build new roads. Cleaning and sorting the gathered plastic provides jobs to local women in Kerala.

When mixed with asphalt, the plastic component makes India’s roads more resistant to intense heat. In addition to helping the environment, the process is saving India money by reducing the cost of building roads by “8–10% per kilometer of road paved with plastic as compared with a conventionally built road.” Every kilometer of road utilizes about 1 million plastic bags. As of April 2021, the project has collected about 176,000 pounds of plastic and has built 135 kilometers of road, creating many employment opportunities in the process.

Fighting Poverty and Environmental Degradation

Properly developed roads contribute to economic growth. By building and maintaining roads to rural communities, India can ensure the economic development of these areas. Roads to rural communities improve access to education and reduce costs for transportation, trade and production. However, funding for rural infrastructure is usually low on the list of budgetary priorities for the Indian government. Repurposing ocean plastic for use in building materials reduces the cost of roads while simultaneously combating water pollution in India, thus reducing poverty overall.

– Samantha Fazio
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19 Relief in India and BrazilThe video game industry is doing its part in the global fight against COVID-19. The online video game storefront, Humble Bundle, is playing a major role in charitable efforts. As of May 28, 2021, Humble Bundle has raised almost $1.2 million for COVID-19 relief in India and Brazil.

What is Humble Bundle?

Humble Bundle is an online video game store founded in 2010. Since then, the video game bundles that give the company its name have raised money for a wide variety of charitable efforts, from the World Wildlife Foundation to Make-A-Wish. The funds primarily come through the sale of popular video games along with other entertainment items like comic books.

Humble Bundle has garnered almost $200 million through bundles. These often include selections from popular gaming franchises like Civilization, Saints Row and BioShock. Typically a portion of each bundle is donated either to the company’s featured charity of the month or the purchaser’s chosen charity. However, Humble Bundle took a bit more of a drastic approach in May 2021 to help several organizations in India and Brazil during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Humble Bundle created the live “Humble Heal: COVID-19 Bundle” from May 12, 2021, until May 19, 2021, in order to support four different charities working in Brazil and India during the ongoing pandemic. More than 54,000 bundles were sold. India recently experienced a record one-day COVID-19 death toll of more than 6,000 deaths on June 10, 2021. Around the same time, Brazil neared 500,000 overall deaths due to COVID-19. The relief efforts of Humble Bundle and other charities are vitally important for COVID-19 relief.

Humble Bundle COVID-19 Relief Support

The charities supported by the bundle primarily focus on providing medical equipment and care to those in need. For example, in February 2021, Direct Relief granted more than $500,000 in aid to Amazonas in Brazil for roughly 350 oxygen concentrators. The Brazilian state desperately needed oxygen concentrators for local medical facilities and people isolated in rainforests. Similarly, in April 2021, Direct Relief donated $5 million toward the purchase of oxygen concentrators in India as well.

According to a recent report by Doctors Without Borders, countries like Brazil were forced to ration treatments or prioritize some patients over others due to a lack of resources. Humble Bumble supported Doctors Without Borders with donations to ensure that essential health services continue with the necessary medical resources.

GiveIndia also incorporates oxygen supply efforts into its pandemic relief. The charity raised more than $6 million to help boost the oxygen supply in India. GiveIndia also provided financial support for low-income families who lost employed family members during the pandemic. Furthermore, the organization supplied food for those struggling with hunger.

The International Medical Corps, another organization supported by Humble Bundle, is also working to strengthen the healthcare system in India, provide crucial medical supplies and deliver personal protective equipment. Additionally, the nonprofit is working to combat vaccine hesitancy in the country to ensure a successful vaccine rollout throughout the country.

The Impact of Humble Bundle’s Efforts

Humble Bundle supports nonprofits like International Medical Corps and Direct Relief in a unique and creative way. It not only provides significant humanitarian funds to the organizations but also spotlights the organizations and increases awareness and engagement through its platform.

“The generosity received as a result of Humble Bundle’s effort is deeply inspiring and will serve as a force-multiplier to get more aid into these areas to improve the health and lives of those who are most vulnerable,” says Heather Bennett, vice president of Partnerships and Philanthropy at Direct Relief.

The nearly $1.2 million raised by Humble Bundle will certainly help these nonprofits continue their impactful work. This will provide COVID-19 relief in India and Brazil to help hard-hit communities recover and rebuild.

– Brett Grega
Photo: Flickr

MFineMany people in India, especially low-income citizens, are subjected to low-quality primary and hospital care. Several challenges stand in the way of quality healthcare in India. Although India has eradicated polio, decreased tropical disease-based epidemics and gained more control over HIV, the country still struggles to maintain “accessibility, affordability and quality” in regard to healthcare. MFine, a health technology AI startup, aims to relieve these issues by providing instant access to quality medical care through a virtual platform offering medical consultations and connected care programs.

What MFine Provides

Founded in 2017, MFine was initially developed by Ashutosh Lawania and Prasad Kompalli. MFine, India’s leading digital health startup, has grown to consist of more than 4,000 doctors, including the country’s best doctors from 600 reputable hospitals. MFine’s platform includes teleconsultations with doctors on a variety of chronic illnesses including diabetes, arthritis and viral infections.

Through its mobile app, MFine provides the user with services such as “diagnostics, health checks, radiology” and an online pharmacy. The year 2020 has presented MFine with a unique opportunity to help millions of people access quality healthcare services during the COVID-19 pandemic. With the enforcement of lockdown policies and social distancing, digital healthcare in India has become all the more crucial, making MFine all the more relevant.

How MFine Aids Healthcare in India

Healthcare in India is defined by two different sectors: the private and public systems. In the public sector of government facilities, Indians have free access to outpatient and inpatient care. However, this system receives very little funding, resulting in shortages in personnel and medical supplies. For this reason, many people look to the private sector for care, however, the private sector requires out-of-pocket payments, which is a challenge for low-income citizens.

In addition to the challenges India already faces, the country is also battling the COVID-19 pandemic. The COVID-19 virus has spread to Indian villages where quality healthcare is scarce. The Washington Post reported in May 2021 that, in the village of Banail, more than 20 people have died from COVID-19 within two weeks. This tragedy, however, is not just limited to Banail. More than 65% of people live in the rural outskirts of India. These areas managed to avoid the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, but unfortunately, villages are now also facing rising COVID-19 infections.

MFine’s Benefits

During unprecedented times, MFine has several benefits in the healthcare arena:

  • Cost-effective and high-quality healthcare services
  • On-demand access to outstanding healthcare services
  • Teleconsultations with doctors on chronic health conditions
  • Easy access to diagnostic services, health checks and an online pharmacy

MFine recently raised $16 million in funding and achieved tenfold growth due to the increasing popularity of telemedicine in India in 2020. Advances in technology are important for improving healthcare in India. Especially during a pandemic, digital health is a top priority. Globally, telemedicine was the top-funded category in digital health in 2020. With support and funding, digital companies such as MFine can deliver AI-driven, easy access healthcare across India. In a time when disease is rampant and rural villages cannot easily access the healthcare needed, digital healthcare is a saving grace.

Addison Franklin
Photo: Flickr

Trade Partnership Between The EU And India
The European Union and India have recently agreed to resume trade negotiations since 2013. The European Union has acknowledged that trade leads to the reduction of national poverty, a huge benefit. The trade partnership between the E.U. and India is strategic to the E.U. in terms of India’s geographical location and natural resources.

National Poverty in India

In India, 30% of the population lives under extreme poverty, meaning that individuals earn less than $1.25 per day. India is one of the subcontinents with the highest toll of poverty in the world. The lack of resources creates a chain reaction, leading to unemployment, child labor and lack of education. Similarly, the poverty rate in India is concerning, alarming other nations to develop impactful relations with India. The economy in India bases on exporting spices, coffee, tea, tobacco, iron and steel. The current COVID-19 pandemic struck India with the lowest economic growth in years. It affected rural areas in India the most. People are reducing spending due to the crisis and financial situation. The European Union has agreed to trade with India to pursue common interests.

Trade Agreements Between the EU and India

The European Union agreed on trading with India for better development and strategic commerce. Europe and India froze their relationship in 2013. This decision strongly affected India’s financial situation. Trade partnership between both nations creates impactful relationships and empowers women. Strengthening the relationship between both countries strengthens human rights and reduces the poverty index, helping civil society. The trade deal between nations is 8.5 billion euros. The European Union and India agreed to build infrastructure projects to increase cooperation.

Both nations have compromised to reduce carbon emissions and increase renewable energy. The pledge between both will improve citizens living conditions and minimize national poverty. According to the European Commission, India is amongst one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. The trade partnership with the European Union could potentially grow India’s GDP up to 6%. The European Union will exhaust available channels to work with India to ensure a transparent market and respect multilateral obligations.

Trade Drives International Development

Open trade policies enable economic development in countries. The cooperation of international trade will benefit the importer and exporter in numerous ways. For instance, trade is critical when it comes to ending global poverty. Multilateral relationships create a win-win scenario, improving productivity and innovation. Poverty means the concentration of individuals deprived of basic needs, often disconnected from global or even regional markets. Consequently, increasing trade creates jobs and grows the exporting sector.

Improving Living Standards in India

In conclusion, emphasizing trade partnership is a national growth strategy. With the collaboration and agreement, India could increase up to 6% of its annual GDP. According to the World Bank, trade-open markets help create an inclusive and integrated environment. The European Union will help India significantly reduce national poverty levels. All sectors in India benefit from bilateral and multilateral negotiations. Above all, it is essential to have an equitable economy to ensure growth in society. The United Nations has prioritized poverty as a millennium development goal emphasizing MDG 8, which corresponds to international trade as a growth strategy to reduce poverty. Thus, the trade partnership between the E.U. and India is conducive to India’s future economic success.

Ainara Ruano Cervan
Photo: Flickr

Self-sufficient Energy Production in OdanthuraiOdanthurai, a small village in Tamil Nadu, India, is the first in its region to incorporate wind, solar and biogas energy into its community. India is running out of the resources normally used to receive electricity. Since imports are expensive, using solar energy will boost the economy in the long term. Using solar energy will also help many villages, such as Odanthurai, to gain access to clean electricity. Self-sufficient energy production in Odanthurai will help many villagers gain access to clean electricity and, as a result, alleviate poverty.

Why Odanthurai Converted to Self Sufficiency Energy

When farmer Kasiviswanathan Shanmugam was elected council president of Odanthurai, he became invested in the development of the community and village as a whole. Shanmugam fought for access to cleaner water, as well as better sanitation and roads. He then began realizing that implementing these additions, such as the installations of street lights, drinking water plants and filtering points, was increasing the village’s electricity bills. In an India Climate Dialogue interview, Shanmugam admitted that “the electricity bill was only INR 2,000 (USD $30) when I joined, and it increased to INR 150,000 (USD $2,220) in just two years.”

Shanmugam realized that change was necessary in order to sustain Odanthurai without causing extensive electricity bills. In the long run, clean energy would allow for a reduction in power bills. Electricity bills were making up 60% of the council’s expenses. This was a hindrance that prevented them from implementing any other developmental changes. Shanmugam began looking into alternative means of energy.

Implementing Clean Energy in Odanthurai

The first change Shanmugam made in Odanthurai was to replace the electricity-run water pump with a biomass gasifier. The resulting cost showed a reduction from the previous cost by almost 70%. This was a significant cutback from the state of the village’s electricity beforehand. Additionally, Shanmugam established two solar lights in Odanthurai. This was a step toward renewable energy that saved the village a total of 5000 INR.

The success of biogas and solar energy bolstered interest in exploring alternatives for electricity. Eventually, the council bought a windmill. The resulting energy that the windmill created was enough to sell to the state as well as pay off the local villages’ bank loans. Shanmugam’s statement on the self-sufficient energy production that he helped to effectuate was simply, “[The village councils] in India should take steps to address development on their own. If this can be done in Odanthurai, it can be done anywhere in India.”

Clean Energy’s Role in Poverty Reduction

While clean energy such as biogas, solar and wind energy is important for the environment, it also has a strong link to poverty reduction. The cost of installing electricity in the village was infringing on their budget for developmental changes. Using clean energy, which reduces power bills, can help alleviate poverty by allowing impoverished communities to focus on other necessary improvements such as hygiene and education.

According to a 2015 report by Synapse Energy, harnessing renewable energy allowed the state of California to save more than $15 million in the first six months. This can be similarly applied to other regions in the world, as the long-term costs are proven to significantly decline over time. As a result, villages can focus on areas that need further development without spending a majority of their budget on electricity bills.

Organizations Providing Assistance

While Shanmugam and the village council were able to implement self-sufficient energy production in Odanthurai, other activists and organizations are also taking action toward advocating for clean energy. Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF) is a non-governmental organization that provides solar energy to underprivileged regions around the world. SELF points out that 14% of the global population lacks energy access, which is a whopping 0.9 billion people. Since 1996, SELF has conducted its projects in about 25 countries around the world. Some of their notable projects include providing excess energy from solar vaccine refrigerators to power medical equipment. It also has been improving online learning in South America and powering telemedicine in the Amazon rainforest.

Self-sufficient energy production in Odanthurai acts as a powerful example to the rest of the world. Clean energy has the power to change the world and alleviate poverty. It is time for other communities and countries to look toward self-sufficient energy options and see how they can improve the lives of their people.

– Esha Kelkar
Photo: Unsplash

5 Organizations Helping India During COVID-19
The COVID-19 crisis in India has increased tremendously over the past few months, with few signs of decline. With more than 21 million people infected, hospitals are being overrun and are forced to turn the infected away. In addition, mass supplies of oxygen are running short. However, some organizations are helping people through to the other end of this crisis. Here are five organizations helping India during COVID-19. These organizations provide food, oxygen, medical supplies and personal protection equipment (PPE) to those in need.

5 Organizations Helping India During COVID-19

  1. OxygenForIndia: A major shortage in oxygen causes doctors to be unable to treat and save patients affected by the virus. Healthcare facilities usually use 15% of India’s oxygen supply, with the rest being used industrially. Due to the second wave of the virus, health care facilities are now using 90% of the oxygen supply and it is quickly running out. Because of this low supply, many COVID-19 patients cannot be admitted to hospitals as there is no treatment available to them. OxygenForIndia is delivering lifesaving oxygen to those who need it. The organization focuses on people and communities that are less likely to be admitted into a hospital. It has an online-triage system that helps identify patients in low-income communities and hospitals that have the greatest clinical and economic need. The organization delivers oxygen cylinders and concentrators at zero cost.
  2. Hemkunt Foundation: The Hemkunt Foundation, based outside of New Delhi, is helping critical patients by distributing oxygen cylinders through its network of volunteers. Many hospitals are no longer able to accept patients. However, those infected by the virus still need treatment and, in most cases, oxygen. Many also live in rural areas, far away from any treatment options. The Hemkunt Foundation has set up two separate drives to accommodate patients in their time of need. It provides oxygen cylinders via drive-through and home delivery. The organization currently relies on crowd-funding and donations.
  3. American Physicians of Indian Origin: To ease hospitals and doctors overwhelmed with the number of COVID-19 patients, doctors worldwide have offered their services. American Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI) has partnered with E-Global Doctors, to allow doctors overseas to utilize telehealth sessions to host COVID-19 consultations, free of cost. Low-income households, who would otherwise be unable to seek medical advice, are now able to access various specialists and help through telehealth consults. Additionally, overwhelmed hospitals now have some space to breathe.
  4. Recipe of Hope: When one person is infected with the virus, family members and households are also exposed. This leaves them without caretakers or family members to care for the unwell. Recipe of Hope is a group of nine people from Bangalore that have stepped up amidst the COVID-19 crisis. The group delivers home-cooked meals to COVID-19 patients completely free of cost. Started by Piyush Jain and Miti Desai, Recipe of Hope runs four home kitchens in various parts of the city to deliver daily lunches. The organization has been able to send out more than 500 meals in the first two weeks that it has been up and running. Delivery services like Dunzo help deliver the meals.
  5. The Association for India’s Development: This organization is a Maryland, U.S.-based charity that partners with nonprofits in India. Currently, the charity has its volunteers distributing PPE amongst families living below the poverty line in India’s 29 states. There are many families also facing food scarcity due to India’s continuous lockdown efforts. Furthermore, the pandemic has intensified the vulnerabilities of India’s food systems, including supply chains and the labor involved in them. In response, this organization has also focused on distributing groceries to families. It has worked with 30 partner organizations in 18 states to give groceries to communities left out of government rations.

Moving Forward

These five organizations helping India during COVID-19 are ensuring millions find relief during this ongoing crisis. Without continued support, COVID-19 cases in the country will likely continue to rise. Moving forward, it is imperative that more organizations step up and provide aid to those in need.

– Simran Pasricha
Photo: Flickr