information and stories about India.

Poverty Reduction in IndiaPoverty remains a significant challenge in India, a country with a population of more than 1.4 billion people. However, efforts to alleviate poverty have shown progress over the years. Here are six things to know about poverty reduction in India.

6 Things to Know About Poverty Reduction in India

  1. Significant decrease in poverty rates – From 1993 to 2011, according to the World Bank, the national poverty rate declined from 45% to 22%. This notable achievement could be due to a combination of factors, including economic growth, targeted government programs and increased access to education and health care. This reduction has lifted millions of people out of poverty and improved their living conditions.
  2. Rural-urban divide persists – Poverty rates in India are still higher in rural areas compared to urban areas. Approximately 65% of India’s population resides in rural regions, where access to basic services and economic opportunities can be difficult. Addressing rural poverty remains a crucial focus for poverty reduction efforts. The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) guarantees 100 days of employment per year to rural households, providing a safety net and enhancing livelihoods.
  3. Social welfare programs – The Indian government has implemented various social welfare programs to combat poverty. One significant initiative is the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), launched in 2001, which aims to provide free and compulsory education for all children between the ages of 6 and 14. The Mid-Day Meal Scheme started in 1995 and is another crucial program that ensures free lunch meals at schools for underprivileged children. These programs have contributed to increased school attendance and improved educational outcomes among disadvantaged communities.
  4. Affirmative action policies – To promote social equity and equal opportunities, the Indian government has implemented affirmative action policies. These policies include reservations for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Classes in educational institutions, government jobs and political representation. These efforts aim to address historical marginalization and create a more inclusive society.
  5. Targeting marginalized communities – In addition to affirmative action, the government has launched development initiatives specifically targeting marginalized groups. For example, the National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM) focuses on empowering women and the rural poor through self-help groups and skill development programs. Similarly, the National Urban Livelihoods Mission (NULM) aims to enhance livelihood opportunities and improve living conditions for urban poor communities. These programs have reached millions of individuals, providing them with training, access to credit and support for entrepreneurial ventures.
  6. Progress toward universal access to education and health care – The Indian government has taken significant steps toward ensuring universal access to education and health care services. Efforts like the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana, launched in 2014, have aimed to provide access to financial services for the unbanked population, enabling them to save money, access credit and benefit from government welfare schemes. Another program is the Ayushman Bharat program which aims to provide health insurance coverage to millions of vulnerable households, reducing the financial burden.

Looking Ahead

While progress is visible, challenges persist in India’s fight against poverty. Income inequality, regional disparities and limited access to basic services remain key issues. It appears that there is a need for continued efforts to enhance social protection systems, promote inclusive economic growth and ensure equal opportunities for all in a bid to reduce poverty in India.

India’s commitment to poverty reduction, coupled with its growing economy, cultural diversity and vast human resources, provides a foundation for continued progress. By addressing the multifaceted nature of poverty and implementing targeted interventions, there is hope that India can strive toward establishing a more equitable and prosperous society for all its citizens.

– Pranav Ramanathan
Photo: Flickr

Global MalnutritionGlobal malnutrition and poverty usually coexist. Poverty can cause malnutrition through food insecurity and malnutrition can cause poverty by reducing a population’s potential economic output. Oftentimes, malnutrition is adversely associated with an individual’s susceptibility to disease and physiological development. However, malnutrition’s harm to an individual’s mental capacity and intellectual development is equally as important. When someone lacks crucial nutrients to nourish their physical and cognitive health, their abilities to achieve individual prosperity and contribute to their community face exposure to significant risk.

While social and fiscal development across the world has eased the devastating effects of malnutrition, nearly 800 million people still lack adequate nutrition. According to a Frontiers in Public Health article, the majority of that population resides in low-to-middle-income nations, largely within South Asia and Southern Africa. Fortunately, social entrepreneurs, food scientists and advocacy workers have been collaborating and innovating to resolve the issue.

Fighting Global Malnutrition with The Life-Saving Dot

Some of the most effective poverty solutions establish synergistic partnerships with existing cultures; The Life Saving Dot provides an excellent paradigm for this type of success.

Many Indian women wear a bindi—a small decorative dot on their forehead—for religious purposes or to show marital status. Grey for Good, a humanitarian organization under Grey Advertising agency, wanted to find a way to use the bindi to solve iodine deficiency, a major issue in rural India.

Iodine is typically found in salt, seafood and soil. It is a critical mineral for managing thyroid hormone release alongside physical and intellectual development and women are at particularly high risk for deficiency. Iodine also plays a key role in healthy pregnancies. In India, the prominence of vegetarianism and the contents of the soil makes it very difficult to get the necessary levels of the mineral, according to TIME. About 350 million Indians are at high risk for iodine deficiency, The Index Project reports.

The solution? A wearable iodine patch in the form of a bindi. The Life-Saving Dot delivers about 200 micrograms of iodine each day to women who wear it and it only costs 16 cents for a packet of 30 bindis. The product, which the Life Saving Dot initially distributed to women in rural Maharashtra, is now available at clinics throughout rural India. Furthermore, the project has also partnered with Talwar, a major bindi distributor across India, to promote the product.

Fighting Global Malnutrition with The Lucky Iron Fish

Around 15 years ago, Canadian student Christopher Charles was sitting in his stilted house in a rural part of Cambodia wondering how to best distribute iron tablets to fight local malnutrition. Charles had been researching the prominence of parasitic illnesses and anemia in the region and linked it to the critical iron deficiency that nearly half of Cambodia suffers from. He knew of existing iron tablets to help deliver nutrition, but also knew that compliance rates were poor; thus, he embarked on a mission to create a product people would actually use.

He drew on the significance of fish as a symbol of luck and prosperity in rural Cambodian culture and designed The Lucky Iron Fish, a small fish-shaped block for villagers to drop in their cooking pots. According to NPR, the block slowly releases iron into villagers’ food as their water boils.

In the product’s initial clinical trial, which consisted of 230 people, there was a promising 50% decrease in anemia after nine months.

Sot Mot, a 60-year-old woman living near Phnom Penh attested to the efficacy of the Lucky Iron Fish in an interview with NPR. “Before, I felt tired and lazy and my chest shook when I was tired,” Mot shared “But after I use the fish, I have strength and energy to work and I sleep well, too.”

Fighting Global Malnutrition with Plumpy’Sup

Rather than focusing on a singular mineral, Plumpy’Sup tackles global malnutrition from a holistic perspective, aiming to deliver a variety of crucial nutrients to infants and those suffering acute malnutrition.

Children in developing nations are at the highest risk for nutritional deficiencies and Plumpy’Sup has proven to be a powerful on-the-ground solution. The product is a lipid-centric nutritional supplement that has exceeded the nutritional benefits of popular fortified flour blends. It contains key levels of fatty acids, calcium, phosphorus and potassium, as well as Vitamins A, B, C, D and E.

Conveniently, children can also consume Plumpy’Sup directly from the package with no cooking or dilution necessary. The product’s design is child-friendly, so young children can open and consume it independently.

Since 2005, Plumpy’Sup’s developing company, Nutriset, has been organizing a global network of Plumpy producers to oversee the quality and accessibility of the product. Currently, countries that are locally making the nutritional supplement include Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Haiti, India, the U.S., Madagascar, Niger and Sudan.

Moving Forward in the Fight Against Global Malnutrition

Overall, ongoing efforts to fight nutritional deficiencies utilize innovation, cultural synergy and the promotion of self-sufficiency. These initiatives provide a compelling success model for combatting nutritional deficiencies, inspiring hope for subsequent success stories.

– Elena Unger
Photo: Flickr

primary education in IndiaIt is well known that India is a country where a high percentage of the population lives in poverty, and this factor influences different areas of human development. Particularly, the quality of teaching and access to primary education has suffered, both of which are fundamental for the country’s economic and social development. However, India has made significant progress in this area in recent times, giving more children an opportunity for a brighter future.

Advancing Primary Education in India

Education is a fundamental right for children, and according to UNICEF, the period between 0 and 8 years represents the period of greatest development. In terms of education access and quality, India has made significant progress in recent years. According to enrollment data, it is estimated that eight out of 10 children aged 3 to 6 years are in an Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) program, with the state of Karnataka having the highest percentage (86.6%). This is mainly due to the implementation of laws made by the Indian government to strengthen the education system. These laws are the National Early Childhood Care and Education Policy (ECCE) (2013) and the Children’s Rights to Free and Education Obligation (RTE) (2009), which entered into law on April 1, 2010.

Among the strategies used to improve the primary education system is the participation of UNICEF in India. This project aims to achieve three main areas of focus in educational development in the country. First, improving early childhood education by increasing enrollments. Second, a reduction in out-of-school children in nine high-concentration states. Finally, building on teaching and education quality by improving learning environments in selected states. In view of this, UNICEF’s work is centered on strengthening early childhood education systems, in order to achieve inclusive and equitable development for all children aged 3 to 6 years, as well as SDG 4, Goal 4.2.

Primary Education in India as a Basic Right

Taking into account the laws and policies on early childhood education made by the government and strengthened by UNICEF, the right to education is being recognized and prioritized. In addition, this advancement is influencing other areas of children’s rights, such as gender equality, protection and care and access to information. According to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations (UNGA) on November 20, 1989 and enforced in September 1990, articles 28 and 29 (access to education and education) affirm and declare that every child has the right to education, primary education should be free and that access to education should teach them to understand their own rights and to respect other people’s rights, cultures and differences. 

It is not only UNICEF but also other organizations in India that work and defend to promote these rights, such as Humanium and Smile Foundation India.

Looking Forward

India is currently the most populous country in the world (with around 1.425 billion people) and this contributes significantly to global human development. Indeed, India is home to almost one-sixth of the world’s population and children make up 25.69% of society. Investments in primary education in India help prevent child marriage, reduce poverty and improve the well-being of families and communities across the country. 

– Letícia L. Lacerda
Photo: Flickr

Diseases Impacting IndiaIn 2023, India became the most populous nation in the world, with the fifth-largest GDP and one of the fastest-growing economies in the world to boot. However, on the other side of this economic prosperity is the growing income inequality within the population. While 64 new Indian billionaires emerged between 2020 and 2022, India also continues to house the most number of people living in poverty, with almost 230 million people living below the poverty line. Many Indians living in chronic poverty are vulnerable to a wide range of diseases impacting India, especially because the cost of health care is practically prohibitive for the Indian poor.

Waterborne Diseases

A significant amount of surface water in India is polluted and unsafe to use. Unfortunately, the unclean water serves as a breeding ground for several waterborne diseases. Approximately 70% of surface water in India is dangerous to drink, including major river channels. Every year, waterborne diseases incur up to $600 million in economic costs in India.

Between 2011 and 2020, India recorded a total of 565 cholera outbreaks, with contaminated water and poor sanitation representing the chief causative factors. The poor hygiene and water conditions of India are also directly related to one of the leading causes of child mortality in the country, which is diarrhea. Around 13% of all deaths of children under the age of 5 are due to diarrheal diseases, making it the third biggest cause of death for children in the aforementioned age group.

Several years earlier in 2014, the government of India recognized the severity of India’s water conditions and launched the Namami Gange project. With a total budget of more than $4 billion, Namami Gange focused on constructing sewage treatment facilities and river-front development in the River Ganges. In 2022, the United Nations (U.N.) recognized the project as one of the Top 10 World Restoration Flagships for restoring over 900 miles of river length so far.

Tuberculosis (TB)

In 2021, India alone accounted for 28% of all TB cases worldwide, and roughly 500,000 Indians died from TB. Moreover, the global rise of drug-resistant tuberculosis is heavily affecting India as well, with 23% of new cases in India having resistance to some kind of drugs.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently announced his goal to eliminate TB in India by 2025. In addition to this goal, USAID has been providing TB-related aid to India since 1998 and assigned a total budget of $15 million on addressing TB in India in 2022.

Noncommunicable Diseases Impacting India

Between 1990 and 2016, the proportion of NCD-related deaths drastically increased from 37.9% to 61.8%. Cardiovascular diseases have become the most common and deadly NCD in India, along with chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPD), cancer and diabetes.

Long-term day-to-day habits and routines of individuals can cause various NCDs. Smoking, drinking, unhealthy diet and high blood pressure are some of the most common risk factors for NCDs, and many Indians are prone to them. For instance, India is the third biggest producer of tobacco in the world, and the nation itself consumes nearly half of the tobacco production.

NCDs are also closely associated with poverty in India. More than 35% of all Indians do not have any form of health insurance coverage and people usually pay their medical expenses out-of-pocket. A staggering amount of 55 million Indians fell into poverty because of medical expenses in a single year.

In an effort to combat the impact of NCDs on Indians in poverty, the Indian government launched the Ayushman Bharat program back in 2018, a nationwide health protection scheme that aims to provide public health insurance to low-income Indians for free. In 2020, the program received an estimated $1 billion in funding.

The Good News

While India faces pressing issues that demand intervention aimed at ensuring the protection of its citizens from diseases impacting India, ongoing efforts present a reason to hope for a better future. The Indian government is making progress in mitigating major health hazards in the country, while also improving the accessibility of health care for individuals living in poverty.

– Junoh Seo
Photo: Unsplash

Rabies in IndiaRabies, a virus present in animals that spreads onto humans via “the bite of a rabid animal,” is a highly preventable, but extremely deadly disease that claims around 59,000 lives annually. From this number, rabies in India makes up 36% of the total rabies deaths in the world, making India a hotspot for this fatal condition.

On the bright side, there is one charity that aims to eradicate rabies in India: Mission Rabies. It works tirelessly to stop preventable deaths and provide the most vulnerable rural communities with safety from this disease.

Mass Vaccination Programs for Dogs

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), an estimated 99% of human rabies cases come from domestic or stray dogs. This is why Mission Rabies makes canine vaccination one of its top priorities. With its operations spanning three main regions: Goa, Ranchi and the city of Bengaluru, it aims to vaccinate the canine populations present among communities.

The organization does this with domestic pets through home visits, or with wild populations by capturing dogs and releasing them after vaccination.

Through this initiative, more than 170,000 dogs received vaccinations against rabies nationally in 2021 alone, reducing the chances of human infection dramatically. Since 2013, there have been 4 million doses of the vaccine provided in Goa, the largest long-term initiative involving rabies prevention in India.

Surveillance Efforts

In order to maintain the reduction of rabies in India, there is a need for surveillance of canine populations and public cases to be at the forefront. Mission Rabies implements this by doing routine checks of dogs in the areas it operates while vaccinating new individuals too.

The organization also established one of India’s two rabies hotlines, which members of the public with concerns can call if they see a dog they believe to be showing symptoms. Being able to identify infected individuals quickly can help in the containment of disease spread, thereby saving lives.

The All-Terrain Clinic (ATC)

With the most prevalent hotspots of rabies in India being in remote rural areas, there is often a lack of veterinary care available close by. Mission Rabies has solved this by introducing its mobile surgery, which can travel to even the most remote areas. This means it can provide much-needed and free veterinary treatments to high-risk dogs.

The team working aboard the ATC also strives to educate the public on rabies as a disease and the welfare of dogs around them. Through continuous efforts, the public can play a part in ensuring the prevention of rabies cases and keeping community members safe.

Education to the Masses

Although vaccination programs could be the best way to eradicate rabies in India, increasing awareness of this deadly illness and its preventable nature appears to be a step in the right direction. Therefore, Mission Rabies carries out an education program through schools.

The charity works to educate children on the causes, symptoms and threats of rabies, highlighting best prevention practices. It also teaches life-saving first aid in case of infection. This knowledge aids communities in understanding what to do upon encountering exposed animals while encouraging more people to vaccinate their pets.

Looking Ahead

In the fight against rabies in India, Mission Rabies is making significant strides through its mass vaccination programs for dogs, surveillance efforts and mobile veterinary clinics. The organization’s dedication to educating the public, particularly through school programs, helps raise awareness about the disease and its prevention. By combining these initiatives, Mission Rabies is working toward eradicating rabies in India and providing safety to vulnerable communities, offering hope for a future free from this deadly disease.

– Annabel Kartal-Allen
Photo: Flickr

Economic IntegrationSri Lanka has been facing one of the harshest economic declines in the last decade. The country’s poverty rate has jumped from 11.3% in 2019 to 25% in 2022. More than 2 million people in Sri Lanka are suffering from the economic contraction. Some of the causes include food insecurity, lack of fuel, hyperinflation, supply chain interruptions and rising unemployment rates due to market shrinkage. The country’s northern neighbor, India, has contributed more than $3 billion toward alleviating this hardship. The leaders of both countries have been discussing economic integration, an undertaking that could benefit Sri Lanka greatly.

The Economic Integration

India’s economy has been performing better than many other countries in the world. The country’s GDP ranks as the fifth highest in the world, trailing behind only the U.S., China, Japan and Germany.

With India’s economy continuously growing, economic integration with Sri Lanka could be beneficial for both parties. Two factors will need special attention for this to work according to the Indian Council of World Affairs. The factors include profitability collaboration and foundational incorporation.

Indian Council of World Affairs notes that there are several subcategories that will need attention. These subcategories  include integration, labor market, education and integration with the Indian electricity grid.

Linking Power Grids

The economic integration process has been underway since the countries signed an official pact “to link their power grids and start negotiations on an upgraded trade agreement.” Apart from boosting power generation in Sri Lanka, the linkage of power grids could also increase the usage of renewable energy. The plan is to place a transmission line leading from southern India to the north-central province of Sri Lanka. And from the Indian electricity grid, Sri Lankans could have a continuous power supply and drive an ambitious economy.

Free Trade

Sri Lanka is known for trading high-quality textiles and garments. In 2019, the country hit $2.7 billion worth of imports to the United States (U.S.), becoming the 60th biggest supplier to the U.S. The top two categories were knit and woven apparel.

During the economic integration, the leaders of Sri Lanka plan to make that one of the big exports when it comes to the free trade agreement. There was already an agreement between the two countries. However, making updates to the arrangements could open Sri Lanka to a higher probability of creating trade pacts with China and Thailand. For this to work, Sri Lanka may need to find a way to advocate itself to its partners that it is a profitable investment for new trades and businesses. To the country’s advantage, the short commute to India is highly convenient, and with Sri Lanka’s capital being Colombo, promoting itself as a business destination may not be challenging. And that is because Colombo has a great reputation as a hub for tourism.

The Future

Based on suggestions, India and Sri Lanka would need to come together to create more means of transportation. The increase in foot traffic could create an economic boom for Sri Lanka. Overall, an economic integration between the two countries could boost the labor market in Sri Lanka and give agricultural workers more time to recover from the chemical fertilizer ban in 2021 (it was one of the major reasons for the economic contraction). As things stand, collaborating with India carries the potential to bring about economical upliftment for the people of Sri Lanka.

– Zyairah White
Photo: Flickr

India's Solution to PollutionFrom September to November, the pollution in North India is so severe that 15 of its cities ranked among the world’s top 20 most polluted in 2020. This is mostly due to crop stubble burning, a practice that involves farmers destroying crop residue between rice harvests, and extensive use of Thermocol packaging. Pollution has an inordinate impact on those living in poverty, posing severe health threats such as a heightened risk of lung or heart disease.

Indian entrepreneur Arpit Dhupar presented a solution to India’s pollution when he established Dharaksha Ecosystems in 2020. The organization’s name, which combines the Hindi words “Dhara” (earth) and “Raksha” (saving), summarizes its mission: “to save the earth from pollution.”

A Gray Sky

A graduate of mechanical engineering, Dhupar was inspired partly by an early initiative to recycle diesel smoke into reusable material. While working on the project, he visited many agricultural villages across the country, which raised his awareness of the pollution caused by crop stubble burning.

He learned that villagers felt the effects of burning much worse than those in the city. Living near the fields meant close exposure to the “highly toxic” smoke laden with hazardous chemicals. Furthermore, this smoke can ruin the organic content of local farmers’ soil.

However, Dhupar discovered that there was no crop stubble burning in Peva, a region of India that, significantly, contains a paper mill. There, rather than burning it, crop stubble residue is used to create craft paper, the raw material for cardboard. This sparked the idea that led to Dharaksha Ecosolutions. As Dhupar explained, “If we can create packaging out of crop stubble waste that can eliminate plastic and Thermocol from the market, it will be a great synergy.”

What is Thermocol?

Thermocol is a non-biodegradable material that is responsible for much of the world’s plastic pollution. It is common in everyday products like disposable plates, food containers, coffee cups and decorations. Primarily, however, Thermocol is used in packaging. A form of polystyrene, it is lightweight, shock-absorbent and versatile. Unfortunately, these benefits do not outweigh Thermocol’s damaging effects on the planet.

Most discarded Thermocol ends up in landfills and flows into rivers and oceans. The alternative, which is incineration, produces “toxic gases such as carbon monoxide and about 90 different hazardous chemicals” that can harm the eyes and nervous system.

Although Thermocol is 100% recyclable, the process is very expensive and not economically feasible. Composed of 95% air, it does not generate viable income for waste pickers who “sell their waste to kabadiwalas by weight, not volume.” Thus, Thermocol poses an ongoing environmental threat that begs for a solution.

India’s Solution to Pollution

The aim of Dharaksha Ecosolutions “is to curb stubble burning and plastic pollution by creating biodegradable and sustainable alternatives.” Dhupar and his team found their solution in a material that could reduce crop stubble burning and replace Thermocol.

Dhupar devised this solution using mushrooms. He found that mixing rice crop waste with mushrooms would break down and convert the waste into a biodegradable foam, developing an efficient packaging material. Additionally, while non-biodegradable materials decompose over hundreds of years, Dhupar’s material decomposes in just 60 days.

Producing such material on a mass scale requires collaboration, hard work and a factory. The factory is capable of converting 250 metric tons of rice stubble into usable packaging. The stubble comes from 100 acres of land in Punjab and Haryana, with the farmers who provide it now earning $30 per acre for something they used to previously burn.

A Blue Sky

“We feel we can disrupt the problem of plastic pollution and at the same time solve the problem of crop stubble waste burning,” Dhupar explained. His mission to turn India’s sky blue is well underway. Since innovating the new material, Dharaksha Ecosolutions has:

  • Prevented more than half a million pounds of polystyrene from entering landfills.
  • Produced 0.8 tonnes of packaging material per every tonne of crop stubble waste.
  • Been named one of The 30 Most Promising Indian Startups of 2022.

But Dhupar’s work is not done. His future plans for Dharaksha Ecosolutions include:

  • Extending his material use to furniture construction would help reduce deforestation and “lock the CO2 for the next 25 years,” marking “the biggest carbon sequestration anywhere in the world.”
  • Creating a distributed manufacturing process model to help source material locally and deliver it to corporations.
  • Eliminating 25% of crop stubble burning in the next five years and 90% in the subsequent three years.

Aware that part of the solution to pollution starts at home, Dhupar is also a strong advocate for adopting an environmentally conscious lifestyle. He drives electric vehicles, recycles all his plastic and is working to convert all his food waste into compost. He noted, “Say what you believe in and do what you say. If there is a disconnect between those two, there is no meaning in doing anything in life.”

Acknowledging his work, the United Nations (U.N.) named Dhupar the 2018 Young Champion of the Earth for Asia and the Pacific Region, and Forbes named him one of 2018’s “30 Under 30” social entrepreneurs.

The Future

Air and plastic pollution in India are severe problems that pose dire health threats to the population, particularly those living in poverty. However, Arpit Dhupar is working to ensure that his “interventions have an impact in the real world.” At the forefront of India’s solution to pollution, Dhupar and Dharaksha Ecosolutions are inspiring hope for a brighter and bluer future for India.

Jenny Boxall
Photo: Flickr

Child Poverty in IndiaWhile it can often feel challenging to raise awareness and take action in the fight against poverty, a group of street children across northern India is proving that being proactive can result in progress and change. These children are taking their fates into their own hands and fighting for the alleviation of child poverty in India by telling and spreading their own stories across the country.

Balaknama is a monthly newspaper run by a team of 40 street children spread across seven districts in northern India. Apart from the advisor, editor, sub-editor and seven reporters who are in charge of writing, editing and printing, there are 30 reporters, or Batumi, who find leads and pitch stories. However, they cannot read or write, and many are familiar with homelessness. The stories focus on the lives of India’s poorest, with the aim of garnering enough public attention to compel the Indian government into taking action.

Balaknama’s Purpose

The eight-page newspaper presents one of the only openings into the realities of Delhi’s 80,000 street children. From its conception almost 20 years ago, Balaknama’s purpose has been to highlight the injustices that street and working children experience across India and the world. It says of its purpose, “When children did not find space among adults, they decided to pen down their issues and glories, [in] an attempt to change people’s perception and ensur[e] identity, dignity and participation of street children.” The newspaper covers a range of topics pertinent to child poverty. These topics include child labor, street children’s homelessness and malnutrition.

Run by current and former working children, Balaknama gives its contributors the chance to improve their lives through their own agency. Many who have worked for the newspaper have gone on to attend school and work for Childhood Enhancement through Training and Action (CHETNA), the NGO that helped make Balaknama possible. This helps bring more Indian children out of poverty.

Balaknama’s Long History

Balaknama has been running since 2003. In May 2002, CHETNA organized a leadership-building workshop that attracted 35 street and working children. During the workshop, the organization realized that child poverty in India was hugely under-researched. As a result, it decided to take the matter of educating the Indian public into its own hands.

These children then went on to found their own organization, Badhte Kadam, which translates into “Stepping Forward.” The children of Badhte Kadam published the first edition of Balaknama in September 2003. They published in Hindi on a quarterly basis until 2014, from which point onward it became a monthly publication. Today, while Balaknama continues to be printed in Hindi and English and is preparing for its 20th anniversary, CHETNA continues to hold weekly support group meetings, allowing street and working children in the area to voice their troubles and concerns.

The Paper’s Impact

Balaknama has been a huge springboard for many talented and ambitious children to fight for greater attention and care to be given to child poverty in India. Balaknama’s current editor, 18-year-old Kishan Rathore, was able to live in a shared house and begin proper studies with the help of a stipend from CHETNA, which also contributes to the required funds that keep the newspaper operating. Another editor, Shambhu Kumar, was able to study for a psychology degree at Indira Gandhi National Open University in Delhi after his experience with Balaknama and CHETNA opened new doors for him. He said, “I have seen my life transform – from getting beaten on the streets to living a life of dignity through education.”

Balaknama’s contributors have also gone on to raise awareness for child poverty in India at the international level. In 2016, Chandni, then a journalist for the newspaper, gave a TED talk about the importance of child journalists and the challenges they face every day. Chandni also appeared in a report for the Hindustan Times where she said, “Children are the future of our country. If [the] Government sincerely wants to develop our country, [it] need[s] to focus on children first.” She said, “I want to provide education to the children like me who can’t go to school on their own, those who are still stuck somewhere like me and dream of better education. I want to provide them with that education. This is my only dream now.”

Looking Ahead

Apart from raising awareness for child poverty in India, Balaknama has become a site of opportunity for children who contribute to its pages. One day, Badhte Kadam hopes, children will have their rights protected so that they will no longer work on the streets of Delhi.

– Tiffany Chan
Photo: Flickr

Soil Erosion in IndiaGlobally, soil erosion is threatening to reduce the availability of soil suitable for agriculture in the upcoming decades. In India, the rate of soil erosion is particularly alarming. As of 2017, the country saw an average soil erosion rate of 16.35 tonnes per hectare per year, a rate significantly higher than the 2020 global average of just 2.4 tonnes per hectare per year. As a result, soil erosion poses a great threat to India’s agricultural sector and economy as a whole.

Though a natural phenomenon to some extent, soil erosion has drastically increased as a result of activities that involve intensive agriculture, land use changes and deforestation. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), such activities have accelerated the rate of soil erosion by as much as 1,000-fold. Integral to the health of global ecosystems, soil supports all life, facilitating the growth of plants, providing vital nutrients and housing billions of microorganisms upon which all humans and environments rely. The consequences of soil erosion include reduced agricultural productivity, degraded ecosystems and reduced biodiversity. Furthermore, it can contribute to landslides, floods and other natural disasters and, ultimately, displace human populations.

Causes of Soil Erosion in India

In India, areas with steep slopes and heavy rainfall are particularly prone to soil erosion, as are areas with strong and persistent winds. Such factors heighten the risk of rapidly losing large amounts of soil. Since the start of the 20th century, increased demand for food production in India has resulted in the widespread use of intensive farming practices that do not prioritize soil health and conservation. Although intensive agriculture produces the highest possible yields for the lowest cost while maximizing profits and reducing the price of food products, it is not sustainable. Large amounts of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides not only pollute water and air but also degrade the soil. Additionally, intensive agriculture applies crop irrigation practices that account for some 70% of global human consumption of freshwater.

Possible Solutions

With around 58% of the population employed in the agricultural sector, agriculture is the leading source of livelihood in India. The Indian Government has recognized the need to prevent soil erosion and protect the country’s remaining soils by encouraging sustainable farming practices. For example, crop rotation can help soils remain fertile because different plants drain the soil of different nutrients. Also, planting certain crops can also help heavily degraded soils recover, facilitating the restoration of healthy soils with sufficient nutrient levels.

Looking Forward

While it is clear that there is still room for work with respect to protecting India’s soils and ensuring the sustainability of its key industry, the country continues to make steps toward progress. In the 1950s, the Indian Government began introducing regulations and projects to address the growing concern of soil loss. More recently, Soil Health Card Schemes is promoting the use of appropriate amounts of fertilizer to reduce soil harm and educate farmers on sustainable soil practices. In 2022, the Indian Prime Minister also reinforced the “Save Soil Movement,” which focuses on making the soil chemical-free, saving its living organisms, maintaining its moisture, reversing the damage caused by a decrease in groundwater and stopping soil erosion due to deforestation. Despite the severity of the situation, a continuation of the current strategies and ongoing efforts to identify other innovative strategies could minimize the threat that soil erosion poses to Indian agriculture.

– Hannah Naylor
Photo: Flickr

Being Poor in IndiaThe economy of India is one of the fastest growing in the world yet the country experiences severe inequality as the wealthiest 10% in India own 77% of the wealth in the country while poverty is common for a significant portion of the population. For people who experience being poor in India, access to basic services is a struggle and meeting basic needs is difficult as many do not earn a decent income. The Government of India has not released official poverty estimates since 2011 but several other indicators show the extent of poverty in India.

Causes of Poverty in India

Poverty in India is a multi-dimensional issue. According to a study by the West Bengal State University (WBSU) in 2018, some of the main reasons for poverty in India are overpopulation,  unemployment, “poor agricultural infrastructure,” illiteracy and lack of quality education, lack of skilled labor, “unequal distribution of assets,” gender inequality and corruption.

According to the WBSU, the population in India has outgrown the growing economy, which means the nation cannot economically keep up with the growing number of people. Poor agricultural infrastructure also adds to the high number of people being poor in India according to the WBSU. Due to old and outdated farming practices, the agricultural sector of India is at a deficit.

Lack of quality education and illiteracy also plague the poor in India and only exacerbate the issue. Due to poverty, disadvantaged families prioritize earning an income over child education and push children into child labor instead of enrolling them in school. This lack of education traps children in lower-paying, unskilled jobs, thereby continuing the cycle of poverty.

The lack of skilled labor in India also adds to the issue of poverty in the nation. While there is a large labor force in India ready to work, most workers are unskilled. This prevents India from reaching its full economic potential and putting more people to work in skilled sectors.

Corruption also stands as a barrier to poverty reduction. The WBSU stated in its report that the government attempts to alleviate poverty through government spending, but “allegedly only 30-35% actually reaches the beneficiaries” as a result of the corruption sweeping the nation.

Clean Water Access in India

Being poor in India takes shape in many ways, such as a lack of access to clean water. With 128 million people in India in need of clean water, the World Bank estimates that 21% of communicable diseases in India stem from unclean water.

Impoverished families, typically in remote areas, often travel hours to collect water for their families instead of engaging in more productive activities such as education and income-generating endeavors. This water is often unsafe and contains bacteria that can lead to fatal water-borne diseases such as cholera and dysentery. Water-borne diseases force a household to spend their limited finances on health care, which plunges the family deeper into poverty.

Hunger and Malnutrition in India

In the 2022 Global Hunger Index, India places 107th out of the 121 nations that were assessed. India has a score of 29.1, and this equates to a serious level of hunger. Poverty also manifests itself as malnutrition. The nation is home to the highest population of malnourished people in the world — 14.37% of the population or 194.4 million people, according to Feeding India. India is also home to about a third of the world’s malnourished children.

The government of India’s National Family Health Survey 5 (NFHS 5) indicates that about 36% of children under the age of 5 in India experience stunting due to malnourishment. Stunting has significant long-term impacts on individuals and countries as a whole, including impaired cognitive ability and educational performance, low wages, weak immunity and lost productivity.

Taking Action

A government relief program called the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana aimed to help impoverished people in India. The program began in March 2020 to respond to the financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of the benefits included 800 million poor people receiving five kilograms of wheat or rice and a kilogram of pulses a month for three months. Additionally, 30 million low-income senior citizens, widows and disabled people received 1,000 Indian rupees.

Working in India for 50 years, Save the Children is committed to safeguarding the rights of children in India. The organization’s work in India is responsible for nourishing 85,000 children, lifting 86,000 children out of poverty and educating 210,000 children.

Looking Ahead

With immense poverty and living conditions that prove challenging, India is in need of significant support to spur lasting change. Organizations, like Save the Children, are working tirelessly to ensure that children have access to education, nutrition and a brighter future. Through these collective efforts, there is hope for a more equitable and prosperous India.

– David Keenan
Photo: Unsplash