I was intrigued by Kerala's Akshaya program. Kerala is uniquely, a most decentralized state, the only one of 17 in India to enact the Right to Public Services and, to open citizen service centers called Akshaya, run under the oversight of panchayats, 3-tier local self-governments, in 14 districts set within a 2 km radius of households. Akshaya was designed in its first phase in 2003 by the Kerala IT Mission to improve e-literacy in underserved areas and, in its second phase to provide a platform for government to citizen services through a public-private partnership. Over 60% of Kerala's 33 million citizens have been served by 2070+ Akshaya centers run by private entrepreneurs who collectively earn 30 million INR a month, creating employment for over 20,000 individuals. (For more details, see Akshaya Overview and UNDP Report on Akshaya).
A common notion in public policy is that policy-making and implementation are divorced from each other, in the sense that politics surrounds decision-making activities (to be carried out by the elected political leadership) while implementation is an administrative activity (to be handled by bureaucracies). However, researchers have found that such distinctions are not helpful in understanding policy implementation in developing countries.
The broad objective of the World Bank’s India Country Partnership Strategy Report (CPS) for the period 2013-2017 is to support poverty reduction and shared prosperity in India. The Report states that between 2005 and 2010, India’s share of global GDP increased from 1.8 to 2.7% and 53 million people were lifted out of poverty. But it also states that with population growth, it has proved difficult to reduce the absolute number of poor at a rapid pace and 400 million Indians still live in poverty. Each of the seven low income states (Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan; Uttar Pradesh) and seven special category states (Assam, Himachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Sikkim, Uttrakhand) have poverty rates that are higher than that of the more advanced states. The low income states, where a large majority of the poorest 200 million Indians reside, are a priority for the World Bank Country Strategy funding during 2013-2017 (estimated to be $ 5 billion annually with 60 percent lending through direct financing of state projects of which half will go to low income and special category states).
India, both in the above mentioned and its advanced states (e.g. Punjab, Haryana, Kerala) is undergoing a massive rural- urban transformation- one of the largest in the 21st century. For the first time since independence, India has seen a greater absolute growth in urban population. The number of towns has increased from about 5000 in 2001 to 8,000 in 2011 and some 53 cities have a population exceeding one million. Today 30.1 percent of the population lives in urban areas and the share is expected to rise to 50% in the next 20 years (with urban India expected to generate 70% of its GDP by 2030). Though villages vastly outnumber towns in India (660,000 villages as per Census 2011), the construct of these villages is changing as the economy grows.
When it comes to primary education, there are many reasons to be optimistic. Enrollment has jumped across the world, and more children are in school than ever before. In the last decade, the number of out-of-school children has fallen by half, from 102 million in 2000 to 57 million in 2011.
But is showing up to school enough?
According to UNESCO’s Education for All Global Monitoring Report, almost one quarter of the youth in the developing world cannot read a sentence. In countries with large youth populations, this can leave behind a crippling ‘legacy of illiteracy’. Despite almost universal primary enrollment in India – 97 percent – half of second grade students cannot read a full sentence, and almost a quarter cannot even recognize letters.
Reading is a foundational skill. Children who do not learn to read in the primary grades are less likely to benefit from further schooling. Poor readers struggle to develop writing skills and absorb content in other areas. More worryingly, learning gaps hit disadvantaged populations the hardest, limiting their economic opportunities. In Bangladesh, only one in three of the poorest quartile is literate, compared to almost nine out of ten in the richest.
A good friend of mine recently returned from her mother’s funeral in Germany. She had died of lung cancer after spending the last eight years of her life in a slum in New Delhi where she taught orphaned children.
I can’t help but wonder if breathing the dirty indoor and outdoor pollution in New Delhi contributed to her cancer. My friend has the same question.
In new estimates released March 25, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports that in 2012, about 7 million people died - one in eight of total global deaths – as a result of air pollution. Indoor air pollution was linked to 4.3 million deaths in households that cook over coal, wood and biomass stoves. Outdoor air pollution was linked to 3.7 million deaths from urban and rural sources worldwide. (As many people are exposed to both indoor and outdoor air pollution, mortality attributed to the two sources cannot simply be added together.)
South and East Asia had the largest number of deaths linked to indoor air pollution.
The WHO finding more than doubles previous estimates and confirms that air pollution is now the world’s single largest environmental health risk. In particular, the new data reveal a stronger link between both indoor and outdoor air pollution exposure and cardiovascular diseases, such as strokes and ischemic heart disease, as well as between air pollution and cancer. In the case of both indoor and outdoor air pollution related deaths, 6 percent were attributed to cancer.
Thinking that my friend’s mother perished as result of pollution may not be so far-fetched.
"1700 people Sir!” Satya said. “Everybody is fine.” Satya had just shown me the equipment of the multi-purpose cyclone shelter in Ganjam District, where Cyclone Phailin made landfall. The equipment had looked exactly the same as what I had been shown during the briefing the day before at the Odisha Disaster Management Agency in Bubaneshwar.
That had surprised me because the shelter where we were was almost ten years old, being one of the first ones to be built after the super cyclone of 1999. “I am the Secretary of the Shelter Management Committee Sir; I am in charge of maintenance.” Satya had said when I asked him how come everything looked in such good shape. “I have done this for seven years.” He added proudly. I was amazed. It is not often that a field visit highlights a facility that is close to ten years old. Even new facilities rarely look this good…
Few consumers in developing countries are aware of the standard safety features in vehicles, and in most cases, the government has failed to mandate the minimum crashworthiness safety standards as recommended by the UN. But the situation is starting to change, and it is exciting to see some progress since the last time I wrote about this important topic. In that blog, I had mentioned how the New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) in Latin America highlighted the fact that new cars sold in that region were 20 years behind in safety technology compared to similar models sold in the US and the European Union.
Earlier this year in New Delhi, the Global New Car Assessment Program, a consumer-awareness non-profit, presented for the first time independent consumer crash test results for five of India’s most popular small cars. Besides increasing awareness among Indians about safety performance of the cars they buy, the event also explored how regulatory standards, in combination with consumer information and incentives, can create a ‘market for safer vehicles’ in the rapidly motorizing nations of the developing world.