Daily Archives: February 10, 2014

Top 12 Challenges Facing India in the Decades Ahead – 08 – Poverty

As per our last post, India is poor. Really poor. By far the poorest of the BRICs with 2/3rds of the population poor by any reasonable definition of poverty. Just how poor is India? In just about any ranking that matters, it’s not well off. When it is compared to the 16 countries outside of sub-saharan Africa that are poorer than it, India is in the lower half of the rankings at best, and near, or at, the bottom in a few cases.

For example, let’s start with some of the leading social indicators (Source: An Uncertain Glory, p 49):

  • Life Expectancy at Birth: 9th
  • Infant and Under-5 Mortality Rates: 10th
  • Access to Improved Sanitation: 13th
  • Mean Years of Schooling: 11th
  • Literacy Rate: 9th for Males, 11th for Females
  • Proportion of Children Under 5 Undernourished: 15th

And this list includes Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Burma, Cambodia, Haiti, Krygyzstan, Laos, Moldova, Nepal, Pakistan, Papua, New Guinea, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, and Yemen!

Consider the sanitation metric in particular. In Bangladesh, which is considerably poorer than India, only 8.4% of the households practice open defecation. However, in India, 55% of households practice open defecation. How can you become a first world country if you can’t even provide your citizens with toilets? (Or even outhouses?)

The metrics are even worse when you compare it to the BRICs. Worst life expectancy. Worst mortality rates. Least access to sanitation. Worst literacy rates. Most undernourishment. In addition, it has the lowest immunization rates and the lowest health care expenditures as a percentage of GDP.

With respect to health care, India did launch the National Rural Health Mission in 2005-2006, but allocated it a measly RS 10,000 crores per year for the fist five years. Given that almost 70% of India’s population is still rural, if two-thirds are poor and likely in need of the program, that’s about 560 Million people who could use help from the program. If you do the math, that’s less than 1 rupee per five people! Plus, it seems to be going down a road of privatization, relying on private institutions and private insurance, with public transfers for the poor who make the BPL (Below Poverty Line) cutoff and qualify, and this is a direction that has yet to work successfully for any major country. In almost every country with good health care, a good public system preceded a good private system.

SI could go on, but you get the point. While India is increasing its GDP at a relatively rapid rate, it is still poor (and the poorest of the BRICs) and the average person is really poor and needs a lot of social assistance to even reach the same standard of life that poor people have in China, Brazil, and Russia. With about 800 Billion people who could use some form of government assistance, this is a huge burden in a country that collects, on average, 1 US dollar for every 3 citizens in tax revenue.