MAC: Mines and Communities

India: Economic growth leaves human development in the dust

Published by MAC on 2012-05-29
Source: Statement, IPS

The following article is based on a press release by The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), a coalition of human rights organisations.

It was issued at last week's intergovernmental Universal Periodic Review of India (UPR), held in Geneva, Switzerland.

The coalition maintains that current indices, used to calculate the country's rate of impoverishment, grossly underestimate its true levels.

If the government followed standards set by the 2012 Human Development Report, India's poverty rate "would be close to 55 percent of the population" - by far the most egregious of any country.

Prafulla Samantra, president of the Peoples' Empowerment Movement, one of the NGOs in the coalition, lambasts India's "development process", which he claims " relies heavily on the exploitation of natural resources [and] has displaced and dispossessed millions of tribal people throughout the country...

"In Central India, states like Orissa and Andhra Pradesh are being increasingly targeted by multinationals for investment. The Forest Rights Act of 2006 recognises some rights, but it has not been fully implemented and companies keep taking over forest and land. Many tribal people were shot by police defending the multinationals.

"The draft land acquisition, rehabilitation and resettlement bill does not take a full human rights approach, nor does it state that evictions should take place only in exceptional circumstances".

Reporting Human Development

Appropriately, and in advance of next month's Rio plus 20 Sustainable Development Conference, UNDP Administrator, Helen Clarke, declared in the agency's 2011 report that:

"High living standards need not be carbon-fuelled ... fossil-fuel consumption does not correspond with other key measures of human development, such as life expectancy and education."

Yet India's reliance on fossil fuels - in particular coal - is expanding, rather than diminishing.

The vast majority of the country's coal reserves are located in indigenous peoples' territory, or among the poorest of its rural poor.


India: Economic growth leaves human development in the dust

Inter Press Service (IPS)

23 May 2012

GENEVA - Ahead of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of India, a coalition of NGOs denounced the gap between the country's growth rate and the rate of poverty, malnutrition and lack of health and sanitation.

They charged that even when laws and policies exist, their implementation is unsatisfactory and assessment of efforts is a difficult undertaking.

"According to official figures, the average growth rate between 2007 and 2011 was 8.2 percent but poverty declined only by 0.8 percent. While this is already disturbing, standards used to measure poverty are very suspect. They are based on a poverty level of 50 cents a day, which is an insult to the poor," said Miloon Kothari, convenor of the Working Group on Human Rights in India (WGHR) and former United Nations rapporteur on the right to housing.

The WGHR was set up three years ago by leading human rights NGOs to prepare for the second Universal Periodic Review (UPR), an inter-governmental review of the human rights record of every single state, that will take place on May 24 at the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Indian NGOs compiled their concerns about the country's uneven development in a 170-page report, which said that standards for measuring poverty were not consistent with international standards and did not follow a human rights approach.

Kothari claimed that if the country followed the standards set by the 2012 Human Development Report, its poverty rate would be close to 55 percent of the population.

"There is an obsession with growth and the 11th five-year plan does not depart from this. Growth should not be an end in itself, but a way to achieve goals like education and health. Even scholars like Amartya Sen have argued that India's poverty statistics are very controversial and unreliable. There must be a radical change."

[India] currently ranks 134 out of 187 countries on the U.N. human development index.

The first consequence of poverty is the violation of the right to food. India has the world's highest number of malnourished people, amounting to 21 percent of the population. A full 42 percent of the country's children under the age of five are underweight.

"True, in our country the right to food is justiciable, but the reality is that we have excessive grain and a very unsatisfactory distribution mechanism," Kothari told IPS. "There is a lack of support of the agricultural sector and shocking starvation that biotechnologies make even worse."

He sees a new threat in free trade agreements (FTAs) for which there is no consultation of the public and parliament. "FTAs are not at all consistent with human rights obligations," he added. In this context, the government's refusal to universalise the public distribution of food grains despite overflowing food stocks is "unacceptable."

On the water and sanitation front India holds another appalling record: the largest number of people in the world - 51 percent of the population - that defecate in the open. Sixty percent of rural households lack access to toilets, an issue that particularly affects Dalits, who comprise 16.3 percent of the population, said Asha Kotwal, general secretary of the All India Dalit Women's Rights Forum.

"Over 700,000 of our people are involved in the cleaning of toilets using their bare hands, this is a huge shame on our country. From 2008-2010 over 100,000 acts of violence were committed against (Dalits), such as murder, rape, or (forcing women) to parade naked, particularly women asserting their rights."

While on paper Dalits and Adivasis have been allocated a large share of state budgets, they were denied almost 30 billion dollars of that money in the last five years alone.

"It is time to expose the cruelty of the caste system," Kotwal said. "The culture of impunity has affected all of Indian society. The state, the judiciary and the media (discriminate based on caste). Faster growth has meant faster exclusion for us. We need anti-discrimination legislation or an equality act to prevent any (more) discrimination."

India's development process, which relies heavily on the exploitation of natural resources, has also displaced and dispossessed millions of tribal people throughout the country, said Prafulla Samantra, president of the People's Empowerment Movement.

"In Central India, states like Orissa and Andhra Pradesh are being increasingly targeted by multinationals for investment. The Forest Rights Act of 2006 recognises some rights, but it has not been fully implemented and companies keep taking over forest and land. Many tribal people were shot by police defending the multinationals."

The draft land acquisition, rehabilitation and resettlement bill does not take a full human rights approach, nor does it state that evictions should take place only in exceptional circumstances.

"With increasing land acquisition and land grabbing, public interest must be redefined," NGOs say. But even when laws exist, studies on their impact, particularly on women and children, are scarce, according to Madhu Mehra, director of Partners for Law in Development.

An example is the recent change in the religious-based family laws that allow women to inherit. "We keep hearing that women have begun to get inheritance, but is it a fact or wishful thinking?" she asked.

"Women's groups have asked for this change, but in the paradigm of multiculturalism, their voices are not seen as the voices of the communities." In fact, women are often represented by religious leaders. The same holds true for the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act of 2005, which lacks effective implementation.

Another example of the gap between rights on paper and rights in practice is the 2009 Delhi High Court ruling that supposedly decriminalised homosexuality. Despite legal protection, rampant discrimination in health services, employment, education and housing continues virtually unabated, forcing many homosexuals into invisibility.

NGOs are also concerned about India's non-compliance with international human rights obligations.

"India has still not ratified the convention against torture," said human rights lawyer Vrinda Grover, "and this is worrisome because torture is routinely practiced by law-enforcement agencies across the country. Its use is particularly systematic and brutal in conflict areas like the Northeast, Jammu and Kashmir and Central India. Enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests and detentions, extrajudicial killings and sexual violence remain entrenched in these areas. India must ratify the convention against enforced disappearances," she stressed.

"India faces enormous human rights challenges," concluded Kothari, "and the second UPR offers a major opportunity to admit its shortcomings and move from a defensive to a collaborative approach with the U.N."

Environmental trends threaten global progress for the poor, warns 2011 Human Development Report

UNDP press release

• Health, income advancement in developing countries jeopardized by inaction on climate change, habitat destruction, Report shows

• Wealth and gender disparities linked to environmental hazards

2 November 2011

Copenhagen - Development progress in the world's poorest countries could be halted or even reversed by mid-century unless bold steps are taken now to slow climate change, prevent further environmental damage, and reduce deep inequalities within and among nations, according to projections in the 2011 Human Development Report, launched by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) here today.

The 2011 Report-Sustainability and Equity: A Better Future for All-argues that environmental sustainability can be most fairly and effectively achieved by addressing health, education, income, and gender disparities together with the need for global action on energy production and ecosystem protection. The Report was launched in Copenhagen today by UNDP Administrator Helen Clark with Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, whose new government has pledged to reduce Denmark's CO2 emissions by a dramatic 40 percent over the next 10 years.

As the world community prepares for the landmark UN Conference on Sustainable Development in June 2012 in Rio de Janeiro, the Report argues that sustainability must be approached as a matter of basic social justice, for current and future generations alike.

"Sustainability is not exclusively or even primarily an environmental issue, as this Report so persuasively argues," Helen Clark says in the foreword. "It is fundamentally about how we choose to live our lives, with an awareness that everything we do has consequences for the seven billions of us here today, as well as for the billions more who will follow, for centuries to come."

UNDP has commissioned the editorially-independent Human Development Reports each year since 1990, when its Human Development Index (HDI), a composite measure of health, education and income, first challenged purely economic measures of national achievement and called for consistent global tracking of progress in overall living standards.

Between 1970 and 2010 the countries in the lowest 25 percent of the HDI rankings improved their overall HDI achievement by a remarkable 82 percent, twice the global average. If the pace of improvement over the past 40 years were to be continued for the next 40, the great majority of countries would achieve HDI levels by 2050 equal to or better than those now enjoyed only by the top 25 percent in today's HDI rankings, the Report notes-an extraordinary achievement for human development globally in less than a century. Yet because of escalating environmental hazards, these positive development trends may instead be abruptly halted by mid-century, the Report contends, noting that people in the poorest countries are disproportionately at risk from climate-driven disasters such as drought and flooding and exposure to air and water pollution.

Sustainability and social justice

Despite the human development progress of recent years, income distribution has worsened, grave gender imbalances still persist, and accelerating environmental destruction puts a "double burden of deprivation" on the poorest households and communities, the Report says. Half of all malnutrition worldwide is attributable to environmental factors, such as water pollution and drought-driven scarcity, perpetuating a vicious cycle of impoverishment and ecological damage, the Report notes.

High living standards need not be carbon-fueled and follow the examples of the richest countries, says the Report, presenting evidence that while CO2 emissions have been closely linked with national income growth in recent decades, fossil-fuel consumption does not correspond with other key measures of human development, such as life expectancy and education. In fact, many advanced industrial nations are reducing their carbon footprints while maintaining growth.

"Growth driven by fossil fuel consumption is not a prerequisite for a better life in broader human development terms," Helen Clark said. "Investments that improve equity-in access, for example, to renewable energy, water and sanitation, and reproductive healthcare-could advance both sustainability and human development."

The Report calls for electricity service to be provided to the 1.5 billion people who are now off the power grid- and says that this can be done both affordably and sustainably, without a significant rise in carbon emissions. This new UN-backed ‘Universal Energy Access Initiative' could be achieved with investments of about one-eighth of the amount currently spent on fossils fuel subsidies, estimated at US$312 billion worldwide in 2009, according to the Report.

The Report adds its voice to those urging consideration of an international currency trading tax or broader financial transaction levies to fund the fight against climate change and extreme poverty. A tax of just 0.005 percent on foreign exchange trading could raise $40 billion yearly or more, the Report estimates, significantly boosting aid flows to poor countries-amounting to $130 billion in 2010-at a time when development funding is lagging behind previously pledged levels due to the global financial crisis.

"The tax would allow those who benefit most from globalization to help those who benefit least," the Report argues, estimating that about $105 billion is needed annually just to finance adaptation to climate change, especially in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

The Report examines social factors not always associated with environmental sustainability:

• Expanding reproductive rights, health care and contraceptive access would open a new front in the fight against gender inequality and poverty, the Report contends. Reproductive rights can further reduce environmental pressures by slowing global demographic growth, with the world population now projected to rise from 7 billion today to 9.3 billion within 40 years.

• The Report argues that official transparency and independent watchdogs-including news media, civil society and courts-are vital to civic engagement in environmental policymaking. Some 120 national constitutions guarantee environmental protections, but in many countries there is little enforcement of these provisions, the Report says.

• Bold global action is urgently required for sustainable development, but local initiatives to support poor communities can be both highly cost-effective and environmentally beneficial, the Report emphasizes. India's Rural Employment Guarantee Act cost about 0.5 percent of GDP in 2009 and benefited 45 million households-one-tenth of the labour force; Brazil's Bolsa Familia and Mexico's Oportunidades programmes cost about 0.4 percent of GDP and provide safety nets for about one-fifth of their populations.

The authors forecast that unchecked environmental deterioration-from drought in sub-Saharan Africa to rising sea levels that could swamp low-lying countries like Bangladesh-could cause food prices to soar by up to 50 percent and reverse efforts to expand water, sanitation and energy access to billions of people, notably in Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

By 2050, in an "environmental challenge" scenario factoring in the effects of global warming on food production and pollution, the average HDI would be 12 percent lower in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa than would otherwise be the case, the Report estimates. Under an even more adverse "environmental disaster" situation-with vast deforestation, dramatic biodiversity declines and increasingly extreme weather-the global HDI would fall 15 percent below the baseline projection for 2050, with the deepest losses in the poorest regions.

Environmental deterioration could undermine decades of efforts to expand water, sanitation and electricity access to the world's poorest communities: "These absolute deprivations, important in themselves, are major violations of human rights," the authors say.


ABOUT THIS REPORT: The annual Human Development Report is an editorially independent publication of the United Nations Development Programme. For free downloads of the 2011 Human Development Report in ten languages, plus additional reference materials on its indices and specific regional implications, please visit:

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