New Delhi: Despite a decade of high economic growth, India tops the list of countries with the largest share of global extreme poor, according to the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDG) report for 2014. It prompted minority affairs minister Najma Heptullah to admit that on key parameters like poverty, infant and maternal deaths and sanitation, the report’s references to India are not flattering.
Heptullah, who released the report in New Delhi, said the new Indian government under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi placed high priority on improving India’s record in these areas.
Acknowledging that none of the references to Asia’s third-largest economy were above par, she expressed the hope that “when the fifteen-year review of the millennium development goals is undertaken in 2030, India will present a very different and upbeat picture.”
According to the report, extreme poverty rates halved in east Asia and Southeast Asia, with China leading the way in global poverty reduction. Extreme poverty—defined as people whose income is less than $1 a day—in China dropped from 60% in 1990 to 12% in 2010, the report said.
“Reduction of the extremely poor is the worst in South Asia, and the worst in South Asia is India,” said development economist Jayati Ghosh. “As a result we have now one-third of the world’s extremely poor. Note that 30 years ago, China had one-and-a-half times our numbers of extremely poor, and now we have about triple their number,” she said.
“The most dramatic reductions in hunger and poverty have taken place in China and Vietnam, which has pushed up the numbers for Asia,” Ghosh said.
According to the report, Southeast Asia and East Asia have done well in meeting many of the MDGs but South Asia was the laggard in many respects, including maternal and child deaths, sanitation, hunger and malnutrition and gender parity, specially in education.
“It’s worth noting that East Asia and Southeast Asia have achieved their MDG targets for infant mortality and under-five deaths, while India accounts for a huge burden. India accounts for a quarter of the world maternal deaths, while our neighbours Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have done well,” Ghosh said. India’s poor record is due to “a low percentage of births attended by skilled personnel. There is undernutrition, (poor) birth sanitation, poor education of women and a whole range of facts that operate in terms of high maternal mortality,” she said.
In the case of infant and child mortality, the UN report said India had the highest number of under-five deaths in the world in 2012, with 1.4 million children dying before reaching their fifth birthday. “It is critical to reduce the number of child deaths in Southern Asia if the MDG target is to be met,” it said.
Ghosh singled out for praise the performance of Tamil Nadu and West Bengal for significantly reducing child and infant mortality rates with the provision of certain basic amenities like paediatric ambulances for neo-natal care.
The UN report notes the strides made by east and Southeast Asian nations in improving access to improved sanitation facilities, putting the two regions on their way to meeting the MDG sanitation target. In contrast, South Asia which had also improved its record still had a long way to go—“nearly 60% of the one billion people practicing open defecation live in India,” the report noted.
The possible good news for India came in the areas of education and access to drinking water.
“In terms of education, we have good news. We have achieved almost universal school enrolment. India and sub-Saharan Africa show the highest rates of improvement in school enrolment,” Ghosh said, adding that India also had the dubious distinction of having very high dropout rates. “The chance of a girl in a scheduled tribe areas completing 12th is less than 1%.”