Business Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Tuesday, Nov 14, 2006
Industry & Economy
States - Kerala
Columns - Random Walk
The elixir of life
Last week, at a ceremony in Cape Town, South Africa, on November 9, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) released the 2006 edition of the Human Development Report, its annual evaluation of a country's development status in terms of people's health, lifespan, knowledge, education and standards of living.
The HDR uses a composite index called the Human Development Index (HDI) to measure the average progress of a country in human development. The HDI is based on education, health and income. More elaborately, the HDI tries to go beyond the more conventional measure of economic growth, the Gross Domestic Product, to a more all-encompassing definition of well-being.
Specifically, the HDI valuates three attributes of human development - the capacity for (i) a long and healthy life, measured by life expectancy; (ii) being educated, measured by adult literacy and enrolment at the primary, secondary and tertiary level; and (iii) maintaining a decent standard of living, measured by purchasing power parity and income.
This year's HDR ranks India 126 among a total of 177 countries, which is one grade better than last year's ranking. The top three performers are Norway, Iceland and Australia, while Mali, Sierra Leone and Niger comprise the bottom members of the class.
For Kerala, which has long been a social scientist's delight for its superior social and human development indicators, what is noteworthy in this year's HDR is the theme: access to safe and affordable water. Entitled `Beyond Scarcity: Power, Poverty and the Global Water Crisis', the HDR says that across much of the developing world, "unclean water is an immeasurably greater threat to human security than violent conflict."
The poor need `water for life' - for drinking, cooking and washing - as well as water to grow food and earn a living, says the Report. Yet poor farmers face a potentially catastrophic water crisis from the combination of climate change and competition for scarce water resources, stress the authors of the independent report commissioned by the UNDP.
The great majority of the world's malnourished people - estimated now at 830 million - are small farmers, herders, and farm labourers.
At the same time, competition over water to produce food is escalating at an alarming rate in developing countries, with political and economic power, not concern for poverty, acting as the driving force, says the Report.
In this context, it is remarkable that, on the matter of water, Kerala finds mention on six occasions in HDR 2006. Even the anti-cola agitation finds mention thus: "In the Pallakad district of Kerala, the abstraction of groundwater by a multinational soft drink company has depleted the aquifer, dried up several wells and caused serious environmental damage."
The `Olavanna model' comes in for special mention: "In the 1980s Olavanna, a largely rural community in the Indian State of Kerala, pioneered a small village water supply system, inspiring reform of Kerala's rural water supply and sanitation programme. Across four districts, State and local governments are now co-operating with villages to extend the approach. The Olavanna model provides clean drinking water for 93,000 households - 60 per cent of whom live below the poverty line. As in other successful demand-driven models the capital costs are covered by government, with maintenance and management devolved to local community organizations."
The construction of wells has also attracted the HDR's attention. "In the Indian State of Kerala," it states, "research following implementation of seven rural water projects found that the incidence of waterborne diseases fell by half in the five years after the construction of deep wells, with no change in non-project areas."
Once again, in the arena of development, Kerala has helped debunk the myth that, in the words of the UNDP, "the deepening global water crisis is the result of scarcity". Rather, poverty, power and inequality are at the heart of the problem.
The writer can be contacted at email@example.com
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