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DEVELOPMENT: India, China Fight Poverty, Population Growth

Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Jul 14 2009 (IPS) - The world’s two most populous nations – India and China – are placing a high priority on reproductive health and poverty alleviation as part of their efforts to meet the U.N.’s much-touted Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and its 2015 deadline.

Since 1978, China has accelerated development and reduced its population living in “absolute poverty” from 250 million to 15 million, according to a new report submitted by the Chinese government to the annual ministerial meeting of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) through Jul. 31.

“We firmly believe that China will achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) fully and on schedule, thereby making an important contribution to the achievement of the Goals at the global level,” the report said.

China also boasts it is “the earliest among developing countries to meet the MDGs of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger”.

The MDGs include a 50 percent reduction in extreme poverty and hunger; universal primary education; promotion of gender equality; reduction of child mortality by two-thirds; cutbacks in maternal mortality by three-quarters; combating the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; ensuring environmental sustainability; and developing a North-South global partnership for development.

China is one of the few developing nations to publicly declare its commitment to meet all eight MDGs by 2015, while most countries have declared their inability to meet the deadline, a situation made worse by the global financial crisis.

Meanwhile, in a report titled “India: Urban Poverty Report 2009”, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation points out that over 80 million poor people live in cities and towns of India.

India has shared the growth pattern of some of the fastest growing regions in Asia, according to the study. The country has witnessed around 8.0 percent growth in gross domestic product (GDP) in the last couple of years.

But India’s urban population is increasing at a faster rate than its total population of 1.16 billion.

Overall, India’s population growth has been steadily decreasing and continues to do so, says Professor Gita Sen of the Centre for Public Policy at the Bangalore-based Indian Institute of Management. She said that National Family Health Surveys point to important reductions in the number of children that women want to have.

“The major weakness of the Indian programme is its continuing dependence on female sterilisation as the overwhelmingly dominant family planning method,” Sen told IPS.

There are others, including a variety of temporary methods, that have been made more available over the years but they still constitute a very small share of the total.

This denies to women, including the large numbers of younger married women and couples who may wish to space their children better, the means to do so, she added.

In its report to the ECOSOC meeting, China says the energies of the Chinese people are completely dedicated to a single goal: the eradication of poverty, and the realisation of a strong, prosperous, democratic, culturally advanced and harmonious modernisation of that foundation.

“The success of the anti-poverty drive has drawn the world’s attention: within a relatively short time, China has met the needs of its 1.3 billion people for food and clothing,” it said.

China also points out that from 1978 to 2008, its GDP grew at a rate of 9.8 percent per annum, while its global rank rose from number 10 in 1978 to number three.

Dr. Yiyi Lu, a research fellow at the China Policy Institute in Nottingham University, told IPS: “It is this sustained high rate of growth that has lifted millions out of poverty in China.”

Asked for the exact reasons for China’s economic success, she said: “I don’t have an answer, because it is attributable to multiple factors rather than any single factor.”

In its report, China admits that to fully achieve the MDGs, it must still deal with imbalances in socioeconomic development and gaps in the equality of health between regions and between urban and rural areas.

Asked if China’s success had been facilitated by an authoritarian regime, Dr Lu said: “I don’t think there is more political repression now in China than before. I don’t think one can say economic development has resulted in more political repression, but it has not resulted in democratisation either.”

Has authoritarian rule made economic development possible?

“I don’t know, but it certainly hasn’t made it impossible. But this doesn’t mean authoritarian rule will also deliver economic miracles in other countries,” said Dr Lu, who is also an associate fellow of the Asia Programme at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in Britain.

She said “you can easily have authoritarian rule without economic development and the reduction of poverty”.

Asked if the current financial crisis is having a negative impact on population policies in India, Sen told IPS that in recent years, India has significantly raised the reproductive health focus through the large National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) which prioritises reduction in maternal mortality.

This is done primarily through increased institutional deliveries and financial support to women and village health workers, as well as improved availability of emergency transport, and better infrastructure.

“There is no apparent negative impact on funding because of the financial crisis, at least so far,” Sen added.

In fact, the recently announced government budget significantly increases plans for social sector expenditures, she added.

Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, executive director of the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), stresses the overriding significance of reproductive health in the current economic environment.

“I do not think that any of the crises we are facing today – whether it is the food crisis, the water crisis, the financial crisis, or the crisis of climate change – can be managed unless greater attention is paid to population issues,” she said.

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