Posts filed under ‘BoP’

Germs are Good – Politicians Take Credit – No Shit

DNAIndia is redistributing the PTI bit that “Germs Really are Good for Us.” Am not shitting you when it says that a study has revealed that staying too clean can harm the body’s ability to heal itself. Meanwhile, there is this AFP news item by Phil Hazlewood titled, “In Modern India, 600-Million Lack Toilets” came into my purview (hat tip: Asian Correspondent), which essentially says that a majority of Indians (numbers twice the population of USA) lack toilets thereby public defecation and open urination is a way of life both out of necessity and unbridled freedoms. True. This pathetic excuse of a nation is filthy and dirty beyond reason. Can you see a connection? I do. India is full of germs but then, it is good. If you still cannot join the dots, I pity thee but ever the opportunists, the politicians who are responsible for the crap (literally speaking) have not only put 2 and 2 together but are also now taking credit for spreading germs and making ‘aam aadmi’ healthier as per this…

Back to the study (must have been publicly funded paying for several academic gits for quite a few years) published in Nature magazine, the hypothesis developed IMHO is just old wine in a new bottle. One has to just look at much of the 3rd world to see that exposure to germs, bacteria, viruses and just about any snotty nosed cellular organisms are good in the long run to improve disease resistance and overall individual health. Consider poster woman for poverty and corruption, India for example. As people get poorer, their health seems to become more robust. I have never seen a poor guy who is bald to mention something that I suffer from. They just happen to die young and quick (with liver problems in the case of men and malnutrition and neglect in the case of women but let us not get into that). I have not heard any of the maids and drivers ever having a heart attack or inflicted with diabetes or down with cancer or taking sick leaves. Makes you wonder if there is a correlation but that should not be an excuse (as it is made out to be) for shabby living. As the little birdie, in this case, Jairam Ramesh says, “India cities are the dirtiest cities of the world. If there is a Nobel prize for dirt and filth, India will win it, no doubt”, maybe, uncleanliness might still have its benefits and bring pride to a country which after all beat its chest on poverty porn, er, “Slumdog Millionaire”. Onto the second article, here are some statistics and eye watering consolidations…

In slum areas, where more than half of Mumbai lives, an average 81 people share a single toilet. In some places it rises to an eye-watering 273 according to local municipal authority figures. Unsurprisingly, it is still common to see people squatting by roads and railway tracks or along the coast, openly defecating in where some of the world’s richest people live. The UN estimates 55% Indians or 600-million shameless undignified brownies still defecate outside, more than 60 years after the scrupulously clean independence leader Mahatma Gandhi first talked of the responsible disposal of human waste. India has to improve sanitation, to control the spread of diseases like diarrhoea, which UNICEF says kills 1,000 Indian children aged under five every day. Extrapolating it to the the entire 3rd world, the numbers are staggering and beyond belief. Lots of humans still live like animals.

Public toilet provision faces the same problem affecting housing, water and other basic services: supply cannot keep up with demand as India’s population explodes. A UN Human Development Report 2009, published earlier this month, points out that even where public toilets exist, most have no running water, drainage or electricity, making them unhygienic and unusable. Embarrassment means women and girls often wait all day until it is dark to go to the toilet, increasing their chances of infections and exposing them to violence or even snake bites as they seek out remote places. Poor sanitation and the illnesses it causes cost the Indian economy 12-billion rupees (255-million USD) a year, according to health ministry and according to the tourism industry, irrevocably tarnishes the image although some argues that does add charm and allure to India spun as open-air toilets.

Every year over a third of a million Indian kids below five die, all because of a lack of adequate disposal of human waste which is one of the most toxic in developing countries. Sanitation is a public good. The availability of public goods – just like private goods – depends on the supply as well as the demand. It can be argued that the demand for sanitation is low. People are content to just go along with the lack of sanitation. And then there is the problem of supply. Public funds are allocated based on what those who control the public purse consider to be high priority. Providing public toilets is not a priority. If the population valued a clean environment, they would have had it – both through private actions and through their voting for those who spend public money on public sanitation. The public does not demand it and the politicians don’t care to provide it. Perhaps they deserve to be living like this if at all a case has to be made for their existence, nay, mere survival.

    Speaking of septic tanks and poops, some nut over at Acorn argues that “Fixing Drains will Help Counter Terrorism”. Finally, I dont know what makes Isaac Asimov an authority on human dignity, democracy and population growth when he was obsessed with replacing humans with robots but all the same, in conversation wth Bill Moyers (captured in “World of Ideas”, 1989), he says that over-crowding is not conducive to human dignity using a bathroom metaphor. The same way democracy cannot survive over-population, human dignity cannot survive it and convenience and decency cannot survive it. As you put more and more people into the world, the value of life not only declines, it disappears. The more people, less the individuals.

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    28 November, 2009 at 13:12 3 comments

    Running Water – Word Play – Fools Paradise

    [edit – 20091119] While I initially did this in jest, it never escaped my purview that “running water” is still a dream chased by over 90% of the worlds population. There is just not enough water (the future wars will be fought over water and all that) and plumbing and there are just too many people. Why, just today, Thomas L Freidman in his latest piece, “Americans Living in Fools Paradise” quips –

    people in the developing world are very happy being poor – just give them a little running water and electricity and they’ll be fine, no worries at all for us

    Just gives more weight to the pondering, ain’t it? I guess we just have to live with the knowledge that those of us (believe me, it was a fight to get it working in my house) who have running water are the chosen lucky buggers and could do with a little more modesty in complaining about our pampered and mundane lives. If you are statistics/story inclined, you might want to go see some numbers and realities on Red Button Design (disclaimer: co-founder of this company, James Brown, was a club-mate of mine at University of Glasgow) making acclaimed Reverse Osmosis Sanitation Systems (ROSS) based water purifiers aimed at BoP of the third world.

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    17 November, 2009 at 02:48 Leave a comment

    More Summits – Less Solutions – More Inequality

    Almost every month we hear of a summit or a meeting of states, but the actual progress towards resolution of issues and problems has been less effective and focused. There is just the resounding feeling that these are becoming more rhetorical and hollow than real and productive. The worst part is that inequality (gap between rich and poor) is showing a marked correlation with the number of meetings whose impetus for more summits has been on the increase. Reminds me of a quote that there is never enough time and summits to do all the nothing in the world. And then there are several jokes on meetings such as it is a phenomenon where a bunch of people get together and decide that the best thing to do is to convene yet another meeting. Or something on those lines. I did some research (read, browse the web) and came up with a quick self-explanatory chart…

    (*) Inequality is defined as the income gap between the top and bottom 10 per cent of wage earners. The data is via World of Work Report 2008 – Global Income Inequality Gap is Vast and Growing. The numbers of course have been normalized to somehow limit axes overflow

      Hindsight is always 20/20 but this is hardly unexpected of course because if the leaders (and I use this term very loosely) of the world are jetting off to exotic locations for meetings, their countries are left to the dogs, which while better on one hand, is proving a detriment to general populace. It seems to me that this is a contagious disease. With politicians being in the Top-10 percent of wage earners, the sheer number of summits and thereby the taxpayers money they claim/guzzle to attend this nonsensical meetings is maybe, contributing to the inequality. Just me.

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      10 November, 2009 at 12:51 Leave a comment

      GE Edison Challenge – Renewable Energy for India

      Raghotham in GE Edison Spotting reports on some of the student demonstrations at GE Edison Challenge 2009 in Bangalore (you cannot lure me to use the new name Reddy buggers). Here is a nice photo (of ‘Urjas’ or ‘Tech Innovas’) from IIT-Bombay (used B-word Thackerey morons) followed by clips from other finalists from IIT-Madras (get it?), SVCE, IIT-Kharagpur…

      Srinath Ramakkrushnan and his IIT-Madras team who call themselves ‘Graminavitas’, are a lot more ambitious lot, proposing an integrated solution that spans rice de-husking in Natham, a 300-household village 60 km north of Chennai (with a de-husking machine he himself made after a two-year stay in Ujire in Karnataka) to building a micro-grid architecture that would partly use biogas produced from the husk to produce power to providing a workable public toilet system to improve rural sanitation to using the waste from the toilet to produce biogas to replace the need for LPG… phew.

      Neha (chirpy 20-something Punjabi kudi in pink tees and blue jeans) and team from Sri Venkateswara College of Engineering are trying to produce electricity using local resources in a village in Tamil Nadu so they can have power supply round-the-clock, instead of just two hours a day. The ‘Energy Boosters’ chose Kaliyapettai village near Chennai, which has a textile mill nearby discharging industrial effluents. Neha and friends used the effluents as nutrients to grow algae on. Algae convert carbon dioxide absorbed from the atmosphere into lipids, which are then converted into biodiesel to generate electricity in a diesel generator. The team grew algae in a tank and have sent in the oil they produced for analysis of its power potential. Neha says the oil produced in 5 days can power lighting for the village’s 600 families through the day, for an initial cost of as little as Rs. 1 lakh (or 2000$).

      Shashikant Burnwal, Arnab Chatterjee and Ashim Sardar of IIT-Kharagpur have built a pot-in-pot storage system that helps store vegetables and cooked food at temperatures as low as 8 to 10 degree Celsius, using nothing more than two earthen pots and a fan picked up from the insides of a desktop computer. Refrigeration, with minimal electricity necessitated by global warming. They have also designed a home cooling system in which sunlight falls on a PVC roof and heats it up, causing airflow between low pressure and high pressure areas, cooling homes – again, no electricity used.

      Are these ideas, and those of the other 15 teams, practical, scaleable and worth the trouble? Well, the judges went around grilling the participants on the economics, the scientific principles and technology and the novelty of the ideas. GE and the Indian government’s Department of Science and Technology (through DSIR TEPP program) have already sweetened the deal. Each of the 18 finalist teams will take home Rs.20,000. In addition, GE will award the winning team, to be announced on Friday, Rs.5 lakh and a runner-up Rs. 1 lakh. And, to boot, the DST will consider funding their ideas so they can turn it into reality. While I feel that I have seen some if not all of these ideas during the days when there was only one TV channel in India (so the whole family watched just about everything from cheesy Mahabharatha to agricultural programs on biogas and mushroom farming), I suppose, there are some positives. Atleast it got some people thinking even if it is heavily incentivized.

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      6 November, 2009 at 14:49 1 comment

      Poverty Line – Poignant Situation of Poor

      Every once in a while, as an investigative cartoon artist, one encounters a topic that just cannot be spun into a spitting satire of any sort. The lives of the poor surviving around (not just below) the poverty line is one such topic. It bamboozles my mind of how they are staying afloat in this country of such high prices and horrendous pollution with no electricity or running water or bathrooms. Perhaps, this is the right time to use the expression, “salute the human spirit” instead of diluting it on some rich blokes climbing mountains and millionaire soccer players scoring a goal. Sorry for the digression. Long story short, I could not make a cartoon on the permeating sadness. But I could find this when flipping a random booklet…

      It is a painting by an artist called Ravi. Irony is that it will never be displayed in a gallery when it should be instead of triangles and blobs. It shows a poor guy, a farmer/daily-wage-worker carrying his worldly possessions on paper in one basket and his family in the other. There is an inaccuracy as in showing just two children but that is artistic liberty for you. The twist is the stick supporting the cradles which is depicted to be the state of the economy which is getting bad by the day and by association, pushes the poverty line higher (inspite of propaganda to bring it lower despite high inflation) bringing more and more people into its hold. Notice the skeleton jutting out. The tiredness of carrier. The helpless and sick faces of the family, inadequate clothes, dark leathery skin. All the works, just works IMHO.

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        10 October, 2009 at 14:30 Leave a comment

        I Support GMC Affordable Private Schools Initiative

        I have lived in the UK and suffer from a condition that can only be called “charity fatigue”. Like me, there are too many patients who think there are just too many people doing too many things to save too many people. But now that I am based in India and fairly well aware of 3rd world situations, I have to say that there is just too much misery and charities, NGOs, social enterprises et al. put together are nowhere near enough. So much so that I seriously thought about going into the non-profit sector myself and while I again got lost and overwhelmed by the sheer numerosity of it all, one organization stood out from the rest of the pack. It is ‘Gray Matters Capital’ which has been dabbling in an “Affordable Private Schools Initiative” for quite a while now. They have setup India operations and want to build an ecosystem connecting the stakeholders in the education domain viz. principals, investors, parents, teachers, students, media, educationists, volunteers, entrepreneurs, vendors etc. Of course, with a philanthropic ideology, GMC also maintains a wonderful portfolio. I wish someday I could be part of their efforts…

        One has to understand the problem (read the documents) of appalling state of schooling in India to understand what am talking about. So, I will take an analogy. Imagine this scenario. You are aware of a potholed stretch of road and complain about it. One day some outsiders come and start resolving this issue. What would you do? I would do as it says in the figure. Try to join them and try my best to spread the word. The former will take time but this is me doing the latter. Go support GMC.

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          22 September, 2009 at 23:46 1 comment

          Fever Time – Water Supply Woes

          Forget “Swine Flu”. It has kept the attention away from the actual fevers plaguing the state. People are falling sick like dead flies and are blaming the water supply. Surprised at how little attention is being given to this not untrue state of nation…

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            19 September, 2009 at 21:36 Leave a comment

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