covid-19s-impact-on-poverty-in-indiaAreas like North America are seeing growth and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. However, there are still places in the world suffering from what came with living through the pandemic, especially the rise in poverty and economic struggles. COVID-19’s impact on poverty in India is especially concerning. In India, estimates determined that about 150 million to 199 million people have fallen into poverty in 2021 alone. That makes up about half of the country’s overall population.

Within just a year of fighting COVID-19 in India, the virus has infected more than 30 million people and killed about 400,000. In that time, only 4% of the population have received both vaccinations. People are continuing to struggle to get things like medicine and food, and the crisis does not stop there.

COVID-19’s Impact on Poverty in India

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to widespread economic failure, loss of jobs and homelessness. These effects have made their way to India. One year after the start of the pandemic, there had been a record 7 million jobs lost. Indian households have lost about 7% of their income.

“We’re talking about a decade of lost opportunities and setbacks, unless there are some big reforms and fundamental changes in the way that economic policy is done, you’re not going to be anywhere close to what we saw in the boom years. A lot needs to happen in order to get back to the 7%, 8% growth that we desperately need,” said Brown University Fellow Arvind Subramanian in an interview with Bloomberg.

Unemployment has historically peaked in India thanks to the pandemic, and GDP could continue dropping. Even before the pandemic, India was having trouble with its economy. The Indian government was taking steps to bring the country’s economy up significantly by the year 2025. COVID-19 in India has caused many setbacks to this plan.

New Efforts in Asia

A new initiative called The China-South Asian Countries Poverty Alleviation and Cooperative Development Centre emerged to combat and control the spread of poverty that the COVID-19 pandemic caused. Operated by China, it will also increase the livelihood and economy of the countries involved. This initiative has included several countries, such as Afghanistan, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The initiative did not include India in the new initiative, but China has asked it to join. 

“I think South Asian countries can tremendously benefit from this Initiative. Regarding India, I’m not aware of the detailed arrangements but I think India should join this group and benefit from China’s learnings. If India wishes in my mind the group should be flexible and accommodate to involve India in the initiative,” said former Nepal ambassador to China Leela Mani Paudyal in an interview with WION.

Efforts From India

While not part of the South Asian Initiative, the Indian government has taken steps to ensure growth in the country’s economy. Projections have projected economic growth at 22.1%, and roughly 377 million people have received vaccinations. With these changes, the government hopes to see significant changes in the state of COVID-19’s impact on poverty in India.

– Demetrous Nobles
Photo: Flickr

The ICC The International Cricket Council (ICC) launched a new partnership with UNICEF in June 2021. The partnership seeks to aid UNICEF’s COVID-19 emergency response efforts in South Asia. The partnership marked another chapter in the two organization’s combined aid efforts through the ICC’s Cricket for Good campaign.

COVID-19’s Effects on Children in South Asia

UNICEF’s efforts in South Asia are a high priority due to the pandemic. The organization estimates that the pandemic likely contributed to the added deaths of 228,000 children younger than the age of 5 in the region’s six largest countries. Disease-related mortality rates rose too. UNICEF estimates almost 6,000 additional adolescent deaths from diseases such as “malaria, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and typhoid” as a result of disrupted treatment services prompted by the pandemic.

Furthermore, “the number of young children being treated for severe acute malnutrition (SAM)” decreased by more than 80% in Bangladesh and Nepal. UNICEF’s report details an expected increase in adolescent health issues. These issues range from stunting to anemia due to a rise in food insecurity and undernutrition in South Asia. The COVID-19 pandemic brought about a significant decline in the availability of essential services. These statistics illustrate the impact of COVID-19 on healthcare services in South Asia, among other impacts.

In addition, the effects of the pandemic extend beyond physical health for children in nations such as India. Yasmin Ali Haque, a UNICEF representative in India states, “Children are facing mental health issues and are at greater risk of violence as lockdowns shut them off from their vital support networks.” Haque also notes the increase in illegal adoptions in the country, prompting concerns of potential child trafficking and abuse.

UNICEF’s Call for Aid

As a result of these consequences, UNICEF called for aid in support of measures to improve the COVID-19 response in South Asia. These actions include increasing medical supplies, sanitation and infection control measures in the region. The organization has already worked to provide critical medical equipment such as ventilators, oxygen concentrators and testing kits to countries such as India and Sri Lanka. While UNICEF continues to request support from both private and corporate interests, the organization’s partnership with the ICC may prove to be increasingly important.

The International Cricket Council and UNICEF

The ICC recently launched a fundraising campaign in support of UNICEF. The campaign, running from June 18 to June 22, 2021, occurred in the English city of Southampton during the World Test Championship Final between New Zealand and India. The Council, through the Cricket for Good campaign, intends to use the massive sports audience to promote UNICEF goals.

The ICC commits to raising funds during cricket games and broadcasts while also utilizing the group’s digital platforms for fundraising efforts. All funds raised through the campaign will go directly toward UNICEF’s COVID-19 relief efforts in South Asia.

“We appeal to cricket fans around the world to come together to show their support for the work of UNICEF at such a difficult time and donate to such a worthwhile cause,” Acting International Cricket Council CEO Geoff Allardice said in the announcement for the partnership.

These recent efforts mark the latest commitments in a string of coordinated efforts between the ICC and UNICEF. Past campaigns focused on areas such as empowering young women and girls through cricket. During the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup, UNICEF’s fundraising efforts garnered $180,000 to finance a girls’ cricket initiative in Afghanistan.

Looking Ahead

As the pandemic continues, support from organizations such a UNICEF and private organizations like the ICC will be critical. Increasing fears are emerging over the potential effects additional waves of the virus would have on children. The Indian Academy of Pediatrics (IAP) recently emphasized that COVID-19 holds a lower direct health risk for children, releasing a statement detailing that “almost 90% of infections in children are mild/asymptomatic.”

The IAP also explained that there is no evidence indicating that children will suffer severe cases of COVID-19 in a subsequent wave of the virus. Nevertheless, the IAP stresses the importance of increasing medical capacities for children in the country in order to avoid deaths from preventable or treatable diseases.

UNICEF echoes the need to support childhood healthcare as the pandemic continues. Fundraising support from influential groups like the ICC could go a long way. These partnerships are vital in helping relief organizations provide the resources and assistance necessary to alleviate some of the problems affecting South Asia during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Brett Grega
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Women’s Rights in MaldivesIn recent years, the Republic of Maldives established itself as an upper-middle-income country with a booming tourism sector. The nation’s islands, spread across many atolls, have become a popular destination for luxury stays in overwater bungalows. International visitors provide half of the Maldives’ revenue. With jobs and opportunities on non-native islands, women have been stepping out of traditional domestic roles and are migrating to urban areas for greater economic independence. This shines a light on women’s rights in the Maldives.

Obstacles to Women’s Rights in the Maldives

The COVID-19 pandemic has had far-reaching effects on the citizens of this island nation. Tourism and related services affect standards of living and lifestyles significantly. In 2019, poverty in the Maldives had fallen to 2.1%. In 2020, the World Bank estimated that poverty rates would rise to 7.2%.

The pandemic has impacted women’s rights in the Maldives in two significant ways. Firstly, women experienced income losses more severely than men, and secondly, women reported an increase in gender-based violence and domestic violence.

Women in the Workforce

In the Maldives, which has a historically patriarchal culture, many women rely on informal employment and financial contributions from others to make a living. This disqualifies them from unemployment and other forms of COVID-19 assistance. Although many men also engage in informal work, 54% of women have seen their income decline during the pandemic compared to only 40% of men.

As a result of the pandemic, many women are not only earning less and receiving less from family or friends but are also unable to qualify for assistance. Government support and charity remain the only stable resources during the pandemic. However, women benefit less from both forms of aid on average.

With the economic success of tourism and related fields, many women migrate to the capital city of Malé where opportunities for formal work and economic independence abound. Still, only 59% of women make a living from paid employment relative to 70% of men.

When the COVID-19 virus began to spread, tourism in the Maldives came to a halt and women were the first to lose their jobs. As the economy suffered, the cost of living in Malé forced many to return home to rural communities and resort to informal work. The implication is that many of these women may never return to the city or to formal employment.

Gender-Based Violence and Domestic Violence

COVID-19 brought financial stress and upheaval to many homes in the Maldives. In a U.N. Women survey, 68% of Maldives women reported increased mental and emotional stress since the onset of the pandemic. The study identified likely stressors to include economic strain and the rise in gender-based violence.

A surge in gender-based violence and domestic violence reports occurred after the nation’s lockdown and again when the Maldives lifted its COVID-19-related restrictions. During the lockdown, welfare services were secondary to the pandemic response and there was also a relatively low number of reports. However, the instances of violence may be higher. Lockdown and restrictions place the affected women in constant, close proximity with perpetrators while financial stress and lifestyle changes compound instances of violence. In the Maldives, societal norms dictate the authority of men and shame women for coming forward with reports of gender-based violence.

Moving Forward

Despite these recent setbacks, the country is making progress in improving women’s rights in the Maldives. Women have made strides for gender parity in education and are building a sense of empowerment through financial security. The nation has set an example for other countries with an equal ratio of boys to girls enrolling in and completing primary and secondary school.

The Maldives’ Strategic Action Plan for 2019 to 2023 notes women’s economic participation, representation in government, sexual harassment and domestic violence as policy priorities. The planning document also recognizes that additional resources are necessary to follow through on important gender equality legislation. The Maldives introduced it recently to address these disparities.

Within the past decade, the Maldivian government has introduced the following legislation to advance women’s rights in the Maldives: the Gender Equality Act (2016), the Sexual Harassment and Prevention Act (2014), the Sexual Offenses Act (2014) and the Domestic Violence Act (2012).

COVID-19 presents a challenge to the momentum building for women’s rights in the Maldives, but with the return of international tourism, projections determine that the economy will rebound. Looking forward, women’s economic empowerment should remain a priority for the Maldives to continue making significant gains in gender equality.

– Angela Basinger
Photo: Flickr

Water Quality in BangladeshBangladesh, a South Asian country bordered by India, is one of the most impoverished and most densely populated countries in the world. Bangladesh currently has a population of 161 million in an area slightly smaller than the U.S. state of Iowa. Bangladesh’s economy relies heavily on agriculture as 63.2% of the country’s population works in industry and agriculture. Even with an unemployment rate of less than 4%, the poverty rate is 21.8%. The dense population, small area, reliance on agriculture and poverty rate cumulatively create a crucial need for clean water. Humanitarian organizations aim to improve the water quality in Bangladesh.

10 Facts About Water Quality in Bangladesh

  1. Water quality in Bangladesh has been a long-term struggle. Since the country’s independence in 1971, international aid agencies have helped Bangladesh with its water crisis. At the time, a quarter of a million Bangladeshi children were dying each year from bacteria-contaminated surface water. Bacteria and pathogens, such as E. coli, cholera and typhoid, were causing severe health problems for both children and adults.
  2. Bangladesh relies on groundwater. Because of contaminated surface waters in the region, 90% of the population relies on groundwater. Groundwater is the water that lies below the earth’s surface between soil pore spaces and fractures of rock formations. This water source is accessible through tube wells in the region.
  3. UNICEF and the World Bank attempted to improve access to water in Bangladesh. To combat the poor-quality surface drinking water and provide more water for agriculture, these organizations funded the installation of about four million tube wells between 1960 and 1970. The tube wells created access to groundwater throughout the entire country. Unfortunately, this led to mass poisoning due to contaminated groundwater.
  4. The largest mass poisoning in history occurred in Bangladesh. In the 1990s, arsenic was detected in the well water. The wells dug in the 1960s and 1970s were not tested for metal impurities, impacting an estimated 30-35 million people in Bangladesh. Ailments from exposure to arsenic include gastrointestinal diseases, physical deformities, cancer, nerve and circulatory system damage and death. About 1.12 million of the four million wells in Bangladesh are still contaminated with arsenic.
  5. Poor water quality significantly impacts public health. Arsenic poisoning is now the cause of death for one out of five people in Bangladesh. An estimated 75 million people were exposed to arsenic-laden water. The poisoning can cause up to 270,000 future cancer-related deaths. E. coli is also still present in 80% of private piped water taps and 41% of all improved water sources. Sickness from poor water quality is a major issue and 60% of Bangladeshi citizens do not have access to modern health services.
  6. Poor water quality impacts agriculture. Bangladesh relies heavily on agriculture with 70% of its land dedicated to the cultivation of rice, jute, wheat, tea, pulses, oilseeds, vegetables and fruits. The contaminated tube wells provide a majority of the water used for irrigation. As a result, high levels of arsenic are absorbed by many crop plants, specifically rice and root vegetables. This can be deadly to those who consume the produce.
  7. Contaminated wells are still in use. After the testing of tube wells in 1997, the government painted the contaminated wells red and the safe wells green to reduce exposure. However, officials used poor testing kits to examine the wells, leading to incorrectly marked wells. Unfortunately, many green-marked wells hold contaminated water that the public still uses. Additionally, the wells that were marked red were never properly closed off and can still be used today.
  8. Poverty plays a role in access to clean water. Both the wealthy and the impoverished in Bangladesh struggle greatly with poor water quality. However, the population living below the poverty line struggles three times more from water-related diseases and illnesses. Roughly two million people in poverty still lack access to improved water sources. Bangladesh is also one of the most impoverished nations in the world, with a per capita income of around $370. This greatly affects the government’s ability to combat the water crisis.
  9. Poor water quality limits the country’s potential. The economy, public health and education all rely on access to clean and usable water. Poor water quality has led to stunting in more than one-third of Bangladeshi children. These developmental impacts limit education and result in an increase in poverty. The mortality rate of those who have come in contact with contaminated water sources will continue to devastate the economy. Over the next 20 years, this could lead to a loss of about $12.5 billion for the Bangladesh economy.
  10. The water quality in Bangladesh can improve. There are many ways to combat the water crisis in Bangladesh. Creating mechanisms to enhance rainwater capture would provide a better-quality source of usable water. Along with rainwater capture, water purification methods and the construction of a water treatment plant would eliminate contaminants from surface and groundwater. Funded projects by groups like Charity: Water, Lifewater and WaterAid are working to improve sanitation and water quality in Bangladesh.

The Road Ahead

Bangladesh has shown steady and vast improvements in many areas. Life expectancy has grown dramatically in the past few years and now averages 72 years. Bangladesh’s per capita income has also increased and is growing faster than Pakistan’s. Furthermore, Bangladesh shows an upward trend in per capita GDP with an increase of 6% per year. However, water quality still poses a critical issue in Bangladesh. With commitment from the government and humanitarian organizations to resolve the water crisis, Bangladesh will continue to grow and prosper.

Kate A. Trott
Photo: UNICEF

Human Trafficking in BruneiAccording to the 2018 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, there were more than 50,000 cases of human trafficking reported in 148 countries. The report suggests that human traffickers prey mostly on women, children, migrants and unemployed people. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is no surprise that the United Nations fears that the number of human trafficking victims will increase. In 2020, 114 million people lost their jobs and children had to stay home. The Business and Human Rights Resource Center has emphasized the vulnerability of those low down in the supply chain, particularly those working in countries that had failed to meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking in the past. Human trafficking in Brunei is on the rise, prompting action from the government and organizations.

Migrant Workers in Brunei

Wealthy in natural gas and oil, Brunei houses more than 100,000 foreign workers who come in search of low-skill jobs. However, many migrant workers have fallen victim to human trafficking in Brunei. Employers withhold their wages, switch their labor contracts, confiscate their passports or confine them into involuntary servitude through physical abuse. Traffickers mostly take advantage of foreign workers’ illiteracy and lack of knowledge of local labor laws. Debt-based coercion and the withholding of salaries is also a frequent experience for domestic workers. The U.S. Department of State 2020 Report suggests traffickers from Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand use Brunei to transit sex slaves.

Vulnerable Women and Children

With one-third of human trafficking victims in East Asia being women, traffickers force thousands of women and girls into prostitution. Thousands of children who are trafficked in Brunei each year experience domestic servitude or sexual exploitation, according to the 2020 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons. However, according to the United Nations, there was an influx in cyber trafficking, making the industry worth $8 billion by the end of 2020. During lockdown in Brunei, traffickers often live-streamed sexual abuse of children on social media. Furthermore, thousands of victims experience deportation or receive convictions for crimes without investigation into whether they were trafficking victims.

Brunei’s Efforts to Combat Human Trafficking

Despite passing an Anti-Trafficking in Persons Order in 2019, which differentiates migrant smuggling and human trafficking crimes, Brunei’s government failed to prosecute or convict any traffickers between 2017 and 2021. The last conviction for human trafficking in Brunei was in 2016. The government has also failed to allocate any resources to victims or the repatriation fund upheld in the Order.

This comes after Brunei demonstrated efforts to diminish human trafficking by ratifying the ASEAN Convention Against Trafficking in Persons (ACTIP) in January 2020. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) created the Convention to affirm its commitment to prevent and combat human trafficking by establishing a legal framework for regional action. As it ratified the Convention, Brunei is responsible for implementing domestic laws to enforce the ACTIP at the local level. However, Brunei’s government has not introduced or amended any laws since the ratification.

Attempting to demonstrate that efforts to stop trafficking are active, Brunei has carried awareness campaigns for employers of foreign workers. These materials are in both English and Malay. In 2020, Brunei’s labor department distributed business cards containing its hotline for reporting violations in more than 500 factories and plants. Nonetheless, Brunei employers withholding wages and confiscating migrant workers’ documentation remain common practices. No improvements received recognition in Brunei’s 2020 Trafficking in Persons Report in comparison to the previous year.

Outside Recommendations

As the United States Department of State suggested in its 2020 report, to effectively tackle human trafficking in Brunei, it is necessary that the government not only increases efforts to investigate and convict traffickers but that it also allocates funds to protect and shelter victims. Brunei must also ensure labor contracts are in the employees’ native language and that workers can retain a copy of their contract and documentation.

Furthermore, the government should direct awareness campaigns at both employers and employees so they are aware of their rights. Campaigns must be available in different languages, particularly those that are common among migrants such as Indonesian, Thai and Filipino. The government must also offer nondiscriminatory essential services to victims of trafficking to protect people regardless of their nationality.

To prevent traffickers from targeting children, teachers must receive training so they can identify and report cases of suspected abuse. It is also important for children to obtain education about their rights and the dangers of social media. This can stop cyber trafficking from taking place. To combat cyber trafficking, the local government must carry out human trafficking campaigns digitally as well.

The Road Ahead

Brunei’s government has done more than just create hotlines for people to report potential human trafficking or labor violation cases. It has publicized numerous labor inspections of government ministries and agencies to promote transparency and accountability. The government of Brunei has also partaken in the Youth South East Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) to continue to raise awareness on human trafficking. By participating in the United State’s YSEALI, young citizens of Brunei attended seminars on how to actively combat human trafficking. As people learn about human trafficking and raise awareness, human trafficking in Brunei will hopefully soon decrease.

Carolina Cadena
Photo: Flickr

Tiger Reserve in IndiaThe opening of a tiger reserve along the Vaigai River in India offers hope that more conservation efforts will replenish the dried-up river. Once a vast, plentiful river that farmers relied on for crop cultivation and drinking water, this body of water has largely dried up. Many citizens and conservationists look forward to the preservation efforts now that India has directed efforts into preserving the surrounding land. Hopefully, the new tiger reserve will improve water insecurity and agriculture in India through the revival of the Vaigai River. 

What Happened to the Vaigai River?

The Vaigai River is dry for almost 300 days a year due to poor maintenance over the last 30 years. Sewage drainage and insufficient silt removal have changed both the quality and quantity of the water. Moreover, drought and inadequate rainfall have also been contributors to the depletion of the river. In fact, this year was the first time that the Vaigai Dam had enough water to release in 12 years. Additionally, the insufficient rainfall can be partially attributed to the rapid deforestation India has faced. 

Further, the sewage in the water has made the river a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Moreover, India carries 2% of global malaria deaths and 85.2% of Southeast Asia’s malaria burden. The country has made significant strides in malaria case reduction. However, this issue puts residents along the river at risk for infection.

Why the River Is Important

Residents in three districts receive their daily drinking water from the Vaigai Dam. This is significant as less than 50% of the Indian population has access to clean drinking water. Also, at least two-thirds of all Indian districts face water insecurity issues due to groundwater depletion and drought.

In 1959, the Madurai District built the Vaigai Dam to provide drinking water and combat water insecurity for farmers, who rely on the river to irrigate crops such as rice, cotton, peas, black gram and sorghum.

How the Tiger Reserve Can Help

On February 8, 2021, a government order declared two major wildlife sanctuaries would be combined to create a fifth tiger reserve along the Vaigai River. This new reserve will be called the Srivilliputhur Megamalai Tiger Reserve.

Once the reserve is operational, poaching, encroachments and grazing will be outlawed. This will preserve the surrounding land and the river. Experts except the tiger reserve will be in the forests of Meghamalai. This location is ideal as it will protect the land from deforestation and increase rainfall and water flow by acting as a watershed.

The Forest Conservation Act of 1980 will be used to enforce the regulations now that the land surrounding the river is considered protected land. This means poor silt removal practices, sewage drainage and poor maintenance by any government official can result in a fine or jail time. This gives Indian citizens the ability to hold their government accountable for the mismanagement of the river.

A forest official told The Hindu News that “with this new tiger reserve, Vaigai river and its catchment areas will be fully protected. The river, battling for its life, will be saved. This will help in the long-term sustenance of people in several southern districts.”

Looking Forward

This new tiger reserve in India is one of the first protective orders for the land surrounding the Vaigai river. Farmers, conservationists and citizens alike look forward to seeing the Vaigai river return to its former glory, alleviating water insecurity and aiding crop cultivation.

– Camdyn Knox
Photo: Pixabay

Mental Health in South Asia
South Asia, a group of nine countries including India, Pakistan and Nepal, is home to more than 1.8 billion people. Of this population, between 150 and 200 million people suffer from mental illness. However, the severity of depression and mental health is often overlooked throughout the region, leaving millions without treatment and support. Here are eight quintessential facts about depression and mental health in South Asia and how the conditions are currently being addressed.

8 Facts About Depression and Mental Health in South Asia

  1. Depression affects 86 million people in Southeast Asia. The World Health Organization estimates that almost one-third of people suffering from depression worldwide live in South Asia, making the region home to a large majority of the world’s depressed.
  2. Mental illness is taboo in many South Asian communities. Professor Dinesh Bhugra, a mental health expert at London’s King’s College, states that the South Asian population carries “a bigger notion of shame” with them than other ethnic populations. South Asian religious and cultural influences often do not consider mental health a medical issue, referring to it as a “superstitious belief.” A 2010 study by the campaign Time to Change found that South Asians rarely discuss mental health because of the risk the subject poses to their reputation and status. Discussing mental health in South Asia has yet to be socially normalized.
  3. South Asian languages do not have a word for depression. Many South Asians are unable to express the specific condition of depression in their language. As a result, they often have to resort to downplaying it as part of “life’s ups and downs.” This language limitation also makes diagnoses and treatment difficult.
  4. Depression is a major contributor to global disease. Medical experts have found a correlation between the symptoms of depression and the perpetuation of disease. The World Health Organization has found an “interrelationship between depression and physical health,” such as depression leading to cardiovascular disease. As mental illness rates continue to rise in South Asia, so does the risk of physical diseases and illnesses.
  5. Postpartum depression in South Asian women is often undiagnosed and unrecognized. The gender of the baby, domestic violence and poverty are all factors that put new mothers at a higher risk for postpartum depression. The stigma surrounding mental health prevents new mothers from receiving any form of mental health care or support.
  6. Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia have made mental health a “top priority.” These countries, along with a few others in South Asia, have created policies to address mental health on a national scale. The World Health Organization has recently lauded their work and the important step it takes towards normalizing and treating depression and mental illness.
  7. Non-government organizations (NGOs) have had a positive impact on mental health care. In countries where the government is not willing or able to make mental health a priority, NGOs are providing crucial support to people suffering from mental health issues. NGOs in South Asia have expanded their community-based programs and are providing specialized mental health services. For example, in the Maldives, a number of NGOs are offering rehabilitation, life-skills training and “resilience-building around social issues” to citizens. These efforts have drastically increased the access South Asians have to mental health care.
  8. Human capital increases when mental health is strong. Although poverty rates in South Asia are declining, the region accounted for nearly half of the world’s “multidimensionally poor” in 2017. Providing mental health care to South Asians is a major step in eradicating poverty within the region. According to the World Bank, strong mental health is a contributing factor to not only the wealth of nations but to the wealth and capital accumulation of individuals.

Improving mental health in South Asia requires not only the social recognition and normalization of depression and mental illness but the continued action of both government and non-government programs. With increased access to mental health care and support in South Asia, the expansive issues of poverty and illness will be positively affected.

Karli Stone
Photo: Flickr

Tech Industry in South AsiaAs recently as a few decades ago, the pursuit of worldly education and career in Western countries was a badge of fame for South Asians. India, Pakistan and other South Asian nations could not offer the same level of job opportunity as the West. Therefore, many people in the educated class chose to emigrate in hopes of a wealthier lifestyle. Two factors contributed to this trend – the lack of opportunities at home and the increased quality of life abroad. At one point, over 80% of the graduates from India’s most prestigious university, IIT, used to pursue opportunities abroad.

As a result, the tech industry in South Asia fell to a baseline, sustaining itself without thriving. However, a phenomenon is occurring that has been dubbed a ‘reverse exodus’. Many of the South Asian professionals that emigrated to the West have returned to their mother country. This mass-return of individuals to their home countries is causing a boom in the industries that traditionally experienced what is known as ‘brain-drain’ (the loss of skilled professionals to emigration).

These five factors are integral to understanding the resurgence of the tech industry in South Asia.

5 Factors Causing The Resurging Tech Industry in South Asia

1. One of the major reasons behind the reverse exodus is for family. Parents that had once wanted their children to grow up in Western nations are returning to South Asia after a strong development in the education sector. Allowing children to grow up alongside a larger, more connected family creates a stronger bond than when oceans separate families. In addition, the parents of these emigrated high-skilled tech professionals are aging. The choice is to “bring them there or return home.” Oftentimes, the family will choose to return to their mother country to care for their aging parents.

2. The rapid development of South Asian opportunities pulls professionals back home. Rich with a younger population well-versed in global technology and a large market for labor, South Asia’s economy is on the cusp of a boom. This is recognized not only on the global economic scale but by the individuals choosing to return as well. In an interview conducted with a returnee, Ram, he notes that “there were opportunities in India – India is growing”. Ram already has a family and was advancing in his career steadily. However, the economic opportunity offered to him if he returned home was a stronger pull than anything in the West.

3. Industry specific zones are springing up, allowing clusters of innovation and clusters of returnees from the West. One example of this cluster effect is the Andhra Pradesh MedTech Zone in India, where medicinal technology is being innovated and discovered at a rapid rate. Medical and technology professionals from the West that returned to this sector find themselves surrounded by a silicon-valley type industry cluster. They also find clusters of similar-minded people. Returnee Ram meets people from Chicago and other US cities: “in the community of people (…) it’s like a mini-US”.

4. Capital for businesses is now readily available in South Asia. After the economy surged forward, jobs became widely available. Funding was plentiful for those that wished to start their own businesses. The IT industry hosts a yearly gathering in California for individuals who might want to return to South Asia. Companies like Intel, Amazon and Yahoo have started to attend the job fair. These potential opportunities for job growth pull many of the interested population back home. The job market and capital is potentially more accessible than in the West.

5. Government support is present for those that want to return and pursue a higher standard of living. Ram noted that entrepreneurial activities are “open to everyone”, fully accessible to anyone that wants to try their hand. The government streamlines the process so that “if you come and expect that you’re going to open your own company in a few weeks,” it’ll happen. Though there may be a more established support system in the West, the clear government support for individual development in South Asia is one of the strongest factors causing many to return.

Though the South Asian region continues its development as a result of the high-skilled professionals returning home, there is still substantial work to be done to retain the talent. Government support, economic opportunity, and familial support are all strong initial pulls. However, the issue of brain-drain won’t be fully resolved until there is sustained regional development. Focusing on industry development must be a mainstay for countries in the region in order to retain their talent and continue the growth of the tech industry in South Asia. Hopefully, through a region-wide commitment to development, South Asia will fully recover from the past losses of brain drain and develop into a hub for the global technology industry.

Pratik Samir Koppikar
Photo: Flickr

healthcare in kashmirFor months, people in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir have struggled during a debilitating security lockdown. With phone lines cut and internet access heavily limited, the lockdown in Kashmir is the longest in recorded history. While the lockdown has heavily impacted all aspects of society, healthcare in Kashmir has taken a particularly significant hit.

The Conflict in Kashmir

Located at the intersection of some of the highest mountain ranges in the world, Kashmir is a region unlike any other. Often termed as “paradise on Earth,” the region’s picturesque landscapes and critical geopolitical location have made it a coveted jewel for powers vying in the region. For the past 80 years, India, Pakistan and China have clashed over the region, with each side claiming different swaths of the territory. With a majority-Muslim population, Kashmir has witnessed a popular resistance movement since 1989, which aims to achieve independence or unification with Pakistan.

However, in 2019, India announced a new approach toward Kashmir, implementing a set of draconian laws and procedures in the Indian-administered portion of the region. Under these laws, the territory lost its constitutional “special status.” The Indian government also reorganized its administrative divisions.

Critically, the territory is now in a crippling lockdown, including a stringent curfew, restrictions on movement and a blackout of all communications. The Indian government has arrested thousands of civilians and local politicians and shut out foreign media from the region. Indian-administered Kashmir, with a population of more than 12 million people, has struggled to deal with the effects of this clampdown.

Healthcare in Kashmir Under Lockdown

The lockdown has particularly affected healthcare in Kashmir. Less than three weeks after the start of the lockdown, pharmacies in the region began to report dire shortages of essential drugs. With stocks running low on anti-diabetics, anti-depressants and cardio-vascular medications, Kashmiris must travel miles in search of these essential medicines. Drugstores in the capital city of Srinagar have only filled half of all requested prescriptions.

Much of the problem arises from the communications blackout. With phone lines cut, stores cannot effectively communicate with dealers and medication suppliers. This makes their stocks vulnerable and the Kashmiris reliant on these medications even more so.

However, the problem with healthcare in Kashmir under lockdown exceeds medicine shortages. In 2019, the Lancet, a leading medical journal, declared that the lockdown puts patients at serious medical risk. With public transport halted and vehicles restricted, people in need of medical attention too often cannot obtain the care they need.

The lockdown has not spared mental health services in the region either. Doctors Without Borders (MSF) had maintained counseling centers in Kashmir since 2001, but closed their facilities with the start of the lockdown. Given the decades of traumatic conflict that have afflicted Kashmir, residents in the region rely on these mental health services.

As the world reels from COVID-19, Kashmir has also felt its effects. In the early months of 2020, the region saw the easing of several restrictions, including access to 2G internet. However, following Kashmir’s first case of COVID-19 in March 2020, restrictions returned with full force. In the following months, newspapers operating in the region have reported a shortage of hospital beds and dwindling supplies of oxygen and ventilators. Given the already fragile state of healthcare in Kashmir, COVID-19 has only aggravated conditions in the region.

Improvements in Healthcare in Kashmir

Although healthcare conditions in Kashmir remain heavily impacted by the ongoing lockdown, local and international actors have made several improvements. One development is medical treatment and consultations through phone calls and mobile applications. The novel approach hopes to provide a degree of healthcare access to Kashmiris while adhering to the lockdown guidelines. An estimated 630,000 families are eligible for the program.

In August 2020, a year after the start of the lockdown, the Indian government laid forth 10 fields of focus for Kashmir. This included the growth of the health sector as a top priority. In the same report, officials also declared progress in implementing the Swachh Bharat Mission in Kashmir, part of a national campaign to end open defecation and improve sanitation practices. The government also claimed to have distributed 1.2 million health cards to school-aged children in the region, providing access to much-needed health services. The cards come with up-to-date vaccination records as well as required biannual checkups.

While the military lockdown continues to exact a harsh toll on the people of Kashmir and its fragile healthcare system, the steps above have helped improve access and treatment in the region. If all goes well, India’s lockdown of Kashmir may soon end. With it would come an increase in the health and welfare of the Kashmiri people.

– Shayaan Subzwari
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

colorism in IndiaImagine, for a moment, that you’re a five-year-old girl growing up in India. All around you, the standards for beauty are pretty, light-skinned Indians: they’re in all of the movies, splashed across billboards and magazines, on promoted ads and videos. Every drug store sells multiple brands of skin-lightening creams, and your favorite actors all endorse skin-lightening products. Your family members tell you not to spend too much time in the sun, just so you won’t get too tan. That’s what colorism in India was like for Rajitha Pulivarthy, now 20 years old and living in the United States.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever experienced [colorism] myself, because I’m more on the lighter-skinned side, but I definitely adopted a colorist attitude when I was younger,” she said, recalling her experiences with colorism. “I wanted myself to look lighter or not get tanned in the summer.” Even with supportive parents who rarely mentioned colorism and told her to stay away from skin-lightening products, colorism still shaped Pulivarthy’s worldview growing up and even after moving to America. Sadly, Pulivarthy’s story is just one of millions. For many women growing up in India, this is the norm.

What is Colorism?

Colorism occurs when some people are discriminated against more than others of the same race, simply due to the shade of their skin. It is very prevalent in India, and it’s a gendered phenomenon, affecting Indian women more than men. Sometimes, colorism is obvious, but often it manifests in more subtle ways, like in everyday behavior. Something like commenting on how someone is “beautiful and fair-skinned” is commonplace in India. While those comments don’t necessarily insult those who have darker skin, they do show society’s preference for those with lighter skin.

Colorism in India

Colorism is so ingrained in everyday life and society, in fact, that skin-lightening products make up a multi-billion dollar industry in India. Bollywood, India’s movie industry, casts predominately light-skinned actors, which perpetuates beauty as light-skinned. Many Bollywood actors also endorse skin-lightening creams.

While the media plays a large role in these notions of lighter skin aligning with beauty, colorism in India can trace its roots all the way back to British colonization. The British ruled many South Asian countries, including India, for over 200 years. Their colonization embedded the idea that fair skin people were the ruling class, and darker-skinned people were the subjects. British rulers treated lighter-skinned Indians more favorably than their dark-skinned counterparts. They gave light-skinned Indians access to government jobs, while constantly demeaning dark-skinned Indians. This discrimination also bled into India’s caste system, where people perceived higher castes as fairer and superior and lower castes as darker and inferior. As such, these lasting colonial legacies mean that skin color still affects the socioeconomic status of Indians today.

How Colorism Affects Poverty

Poverty and colorism in India go hand-in-hand. Because the caste system still affects socioeconomic status, people with darker skin tend to be lower in socioeconomic status as well. Colorism makes social mobility harder for Indians in general. There is systemic discrimination against dark-skinned people in education systems and the labor market. Educators and employers still prefer light-skinned Indians over dark-skinned Indians, which plays greatly into the opportunities for social mobility that darker-skinned Indians do and do not have.

A basic link between poverty and colorism in India is that impoverished people are not able to take care of their appearance and diet. Though they don’t have access to skin-lightening products, they are seen as “dirty” and “dark.” Over time, these connotations begin to blur, and socioeconomic status and skin tone become connected to social and financial status.

One of the most unique effects of colorism in India is how arranged marriages, common in India, discriminate against dark-skinned people. Marriage ads allow people to filter out women on every condition under the sun, including skin color. A study done at the University of New Delhi, India found that dark-skinned men and women were consistently rated lower on marriage ads. This demonstrates yet another way that colorism in India inhibits social mobility, which makes it harder for impoverished people to change their circumstances.

Combatting Colorism in India

Anti-blackness and anti-darkness together ultimately create discriminatory systems that disenfranchise dark-skinned people in India and across South Asia. However, protests over summer of 2020 in the U.S. have prompted calls for equity and justice around the world, especially in India. In particular, there has been a new wave of conversations surrounding colorism in India and how to fight it.

Many Indians are asking themselves and their family members how they can continue to support “Black Lives Matter” while also perpetuating harmful colorism within their own communities. Some people are starting the fight against colorism by talking to their friends, families and community members about colorism. Others are using social media to create movements, like #UnfairAndLovely, which takes the name of a popular lightening cream and uses it to brand positivity posts for dark-skinned Indians. Still others are calling for accountability from notable Indian celebrities like Priyanka Chopra, who has promoted skin-lightening products in the past.

No matter the level of activism, combatting colorism in India needs the work of all of society to make India equitable for all Indians, regardless of skin color. Fighting colorism in India also helps fight poverty, and vice versa. Ultimately, colorism in India shows us that the fight for poverty is not just a fight for living wages, but a fight for global human rights.

Hannah Daniel
Photo: Flickr