While the country has made progress in reducing poverty, it has lagged behind in improving sanitation
India has made headway in reducing poverty and giving access to drinking water for much of its population, but has lagged behind in improving sanitation, food security, maternal mortality and gender equity standards, putting it at risk of missing key targets, said the Millennium Development Goals Report 2012 released on Monday.
According to the report, which measures the world’s progress towards the 2015 deadline for meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), three global targets have already been met.
For the first time since the World Bank began monitoring poverty, both the number of people living in extreme poverty and the poverty rate fell in every developing region, the report said. As of 2012, the proportion of urban residents living in slums in the developing world has dropped to 33% from 39% in 2000, and the proportion of people without access to improved sources of drinking water fell between 1990 and 2010 to 11% from 24%.
India has made gains in poverty reduction, reduced the incidence of HIV, malaria and tuberculosis infections, and improved access to drinking water. Between 1990 and 2008, India’s poverty rates fell from 51% to 37%, as measured against the $1.25-per-day international poverty line. And, the proportion of households with access to improved water sources increased to 91.4% in 2008-2009 from 68.2% in 1992-93.
But gender equality and maternal mortality emerged as two millennium development goals (MDGs) that India is likely to miss. While the country has shown some improvement on the maternal mortality ratio, it is still far from slashing the rate by three quarters.
“In India, 153 women are still dying every day—that’s one woman every 10 minutes,” said Frederika Meijer, the United Nations Population Fund country representative, at the launch of the report in Delhi, adding that India could improve its performance by increasing women’s access to contraception and skilled birthing attendants.
While South Asia has nearly reached gender parity for the enrolment of children in primary school, with 98 girls enrolled for every 100 boys, the dropout rates among girls are among the highest in the world.
“The huge literacy and gender gap is most noticeable in southern Asia, where there are only 86 literate women per 100 men, and girls represent 55% of out-of-school children,” Meijer said. She also raised concern over the high incidence of rape, and other violence targeting Indian women.
In addition to poverty reduction, the United Nations had set specific targets under the first MDG framework to reduce hunger and income poverty, and to improve employment conditions.
With regard to the latter three, “South Asia is not only failing to meet targets, but we are doing worse,” said Jawaharlal Nehru University economist Jayati Ghosh at the report’s launch.
Of 850 million people without adequate nutrition, 237 million live in India—slightly more than one in four.
“This is a cause of serious concern—and the reason South Asia is doing worse is largely because India is doing worse,” she said.
According to Ghosh, India has among the lowest per capita education and health spending in the world, “worse than sub-saharan Africa”.
Ghosh also criticized the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) for falling short. The programme “peaked in 2007-2008, but then spending is falling”, she said. “It has significant potential, but hasn’t been adequately exploited.”
India also performed worst in the world in terms of improving access to basic sanitation. According to India’s MDG country report released last week, 49.2% of Indian households lack toilets of any kind. There is a sharp rural-urban divide with this amounting to 65.2% in villages and 11.3% in towns and cities in 2008-09. Schedule castes (SCs) and scheduled tribes (STs) appear to be worst off, with 76.3% SC and 75% ST households lacking toilets, according to the same report (2008-09 figures).
“Sanitation remains one of our worst and most important concerns due to the relationship it has to health, nutrition and many other issues,” Ghosh said. “Without proper access to sanitation, the ability to get nutrition from the food you eat is also limited.”
Whether countries improve in areas in which they fall short depends largely on the commitment of their governments in times of economic crisis, UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon warned in a statement.
“The current economic crises besetting much of the developed world must not be allowed to decelerate or reverse the progress that has been made,” he said. “Let us build on the successes we have achieved so far, and let us not relent until all the MDGs have been attained.”