Tuesday, July 7, 2009

India to Spend More on Military

India is planning to raise its military budget by 50% to almost $40 billion, making military expenditure 3% of the annual gross domestic product (GDP), the Indian defense minister said.

"Our current defense spending is lower than 2% [of GDP]...and it should be at least 3%," A. K. Antony said at a meeting with top military commanders on Tuesday, without specifying a time-frame. India raised its defense spending in February by 10% to $26.5 billion for the fiscal year 2008-2009, but it still fell below 2% of GDP for the first time in at least a decade.

India's neighbors and long-term rivals, Pakistan and China, allocate around 3.5% and 4.3% of GDP to defense, respectively. The minister said top priority must be given to the modernization of the Indian Armed Forces and half of the defense budget should be allocated for the purchase of new military equipment.

Currently two-thirds of India's budget is allocated for military, paramilitary, police, various security forces and debt servicing. That leaves one-third for everything else, including infrastructure development projects, education, healthcare, poverty alleviation, and various human services. This new arms buildup by India will leave even less for what India needs most: to lift hundreds of millions of its citizens from abject poverty, hunger, squalor and disease.

Such an arms buildup by India is sure to fuel an arms race that South Asians can ill afford with widespread abject poverty, hunger, malnutrition and very low levels of human development.

The human cost of this unfortunate escalation by India will mainly be born by its most vulnerable citizens who will probably lose the few crumbs of bread they are forced to live on now. It will continue the horrible sanitation situation that forces two-thirds of Indians to defecate in the open that spreads disease and kills millions of various diseases each year.

India has failed to use a period of high economic growth to lift tens of millions of people out of poverty, falling far short of China’s record in protecting its population from the ravages of chronic hunger, United Nations officials said on Tuesday. Last year, British Development Minister Alexander contrasted the rapid growth in China with India's economic success - highlighting government figures that showed the number of poor people had dropped in the one-party communist state by 70% since 1990 but had risen in the world's biggest democracy by 5%.

The World Hunger Index of 88 countries published by IFPRI last year ranked India at 66 while Pakistan was slightly better at 61 and Bangladesh slightly worse at 70.

In the context of unprecedented economic growth (9-10 percent annually) and national food security, over 60 percent of Indian children are wasted, stunted, underweight or a combination of the above. As a result, India ranks number 62 along with Bangladesh at 67 in the PHI (Poverty Hunger Index)ranking out of a total of 81 countries. Both nations are included among the low performing countries in progress towards MDG1 (Millennium Development Goals) with countries such as Nepal (number 58), Ethiopia (number 60), or Zimbabwe (number 74).

Pakistan ranks well ahead of India at 45 and it is included in the medium performing countries. PHI is a new composite indicator – the Poverty and Hunger Index (PHI) – developed to measure countries’ performance towards achieving MDG1 on halving poverty and hunger by 2015. The PHI combines all five official MDG1 indicators, including a) the proportion of population living on less than US$ 1/day, b) poverty gap ratio, c) share of the poorest quintile in national income or consumption, d) prevalence of underweight in children under five years of age, and d) the proportion of population undernourished.

The stinging criticism of India’s performance comes only two weeks after the Congress party-led alliance was overwhelmingly voted back into office. Its leaders had campaigned strongly on their achievement of raising India’s economic growth to 9 per cent and boosting rural welfare. With the exception of Kerala, the situation in India is far worse than the Human Development Index suggests. According to economist Amartya Sen, who won the Nobel Prize for his work on hunger, India has fared worse than any other country in the world at preventing recurring hunger.

India might be an emerging economic power, but it is way behind Pakistan, Bangladesh and even Afghanistan in providing basic sanitation facilities, a key reason behind the death of 2.1 million children under five in the country.

Lizette Burgers, chief of water and environment sanitation of the Unicef, recently said India is making progress in providing sanitation but it lags behind most of the other countries in South Asia. A former Indian minister Mr Raghuvansh Prasad Singh told the BBC that more than 65% of India's rural population defecated in the open, along roadsides, railway tracks and fields, generating huge amounts of excrement every day.

Economically resurgent India is witnessing a rapid unfolding of a female genocide in the making across all castes and classes, including the upper caste rich and the educated. The situation is particularly alarming among upper-caste Hindus in some of the urban areas of Punjab, Rajasthan, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, specially in parts of Punjab, where there are only 300 girls for every 1,000 boys, according to Laura Turquet, ActionAid's women's rights policy official.

I see hunger and poverty and lack of opportunity as the root cause of most of the ethnic, religious and other forms of violence. The situation is further complicated when nations with the largest number of poor and hungry choose to spend more on military than on fighting poverty, hunger and disease.

In fact, letting millions die of hunger each year, is what Amatya Sen calls "quiet violence", a form of ongoing brutality that claims far more lives than all of the other causes of violence combined.

Neither Pakistan nor India can or should continue their misguided arms race, with India using China as its excuse, and Pakistan citing India's current arms buildup, the largest in its history. In Poverty-Hunger Index(PHI), designed to measure progress toward UN's Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), China, ranked 31, is closest to achieving these goals, followed by laggards such as Pakistan at 45, India at 62, and Bangladesh at 67. And clearly, India, lagging behind both China and Pakistan in terms of basic social indicators of hunger and poverty, is fueling this crazy South Asian arms race. India continues to show a total lack of leadership on this front.

The South Asian rivals need to recognize, in words and in deeds, that their people are their biggest resource, who must be developed and made much more productive to make the nations more competitive and powerful economically, politically and militarily.

Related Links:

Challenges of Indian Democracy

India's Female Genocide

Pakistan Military Business

India-Pakistan Military Balance

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Sunday, July 5, 2009

India's Disappearing Daughters

The land of former Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi is killing its daughters by the millions. Economically resurgent India is witnessing a rapid unfolding of a female genocide in the making across all castes and classes, including the upper caste rich and the educated. The situation is particularly alarming among upper-caste Hindus in some of the urban areas of Punjab, Rajasthan, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, specially in parts of Punjab, where there are only 300 girls for every 1,000 boys, according to Laura Turquet, ActionAid's women's rights policy official.

ActionAid collaborated with Canada's International Development Research Center (IDRC) to conduct research and produced a report called "Disappearing Daughters".

The report cites findings from sites across five states in north and northwest India reveal that the sex ratio of girls to boys has not only worsened but is accelerating compared to the last national census in 2001. One of the reasons for this accelerated rate of female feticide is the abuse of ultrasound technology to determine the gender of the unborn. The purveyors of the ultrasound business in every city, town and village of India entice parents by telling them to "spend 500 rupees now and save 50,000 rupees later.” The cost of the ultrasound scan is Rs. 500 and the required dowry for marrying daughters off exceeds Rs. 50,000.00.

And everywhere else, with the exception of Rajasthan, already low figures are continuing to slide. Even in Rajasthan, the proportion of girls is well below what should be the norm of around 950 girls born for every 1000 boys.

ActionAid has also found that girls are more likely to be born but less likely to survive in areas with more limited access to public health services and modern ultrasound technology. In rural Morena and Dhaulpur, deliberate neglect of girls, including allowing the umbilical cord to become infected, is used as a way to dispose of unwanted daughters.

Such neglect ensures fewer surviving daughters, with the best chances of being born and surviving as a girl depending on the birth order in your family.

All survey sites showed a decline in the proportion of girls among second-born children. And in three of the survey sites, for every 1000 third-born boys, there were fewer than 750 girls.

The problem of female infanticide is not just limited to the states in Northern India. In the southern state of Tamil Nadu, female infanticide is so frequent that all second daughters are known as "the girl born for the burial pit", according to a documentary produced by ABC Australia.

The Indian diaspora is not immune from the cultural bias against female children, either. The male-female ratios of British Indians are also getting increasingly skewed in favor of male children. Since the 1970s, the at-birth male-female ratio of British Indians has dramatically change from 103:100 to 114.4:100, excluding the birth of the first or the second child.

Here are the latest statistics from the CIA's The World Factbook on male-female ratios in India and Pakistan:

India at birth: 1.12 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.1 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 1.06 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.9 male(s)/female
total population: 1.06 male(s)/female (2009 est.)

Pakistan at birth: 1.05 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.06 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 1.05 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.88 male(s)/female
total population: 1.04 male(s)/female (2009 est.)

China at birth: 1.1 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.13 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 1.06 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.91 male(s)/female
total population: 1.06 male(s)/female (2009 est.)

The at-birth male-female ratios in Pakistan are comparable to most of the rest of the world, including the West, but the Indian ratios are the worst in the world. In spite of China's one child policy, the ratios in China are better than India's.

India Prime Minister Mr. Manmohan Singh, who has three daughters, has recognized the accelerating horror of female genocide in India. In response, he has launched the “Save the Girl Child” campaign. He has said that no nation could claim to be part of a civilized world if it condoned female feticide. An estimated 50 million girls have been sacrificed because of son preference.

"Census figures illustrate that in some of the richer states the problem is most acute. These states include Punjab which had only 798 girls (per 1,000 boys), Haryana 819, Delhi 868 and Gujarat 883 girls in the 2001 Census. Growing economic prosperity and education levels have not led to a corresponding mitigation in this acute problem," he said.

"Female illiteracy, obscurantist social practices like child marriage or early marriage, dowry, poor nutritional entitlements, taboos on women in public places make Indian women vulnerable. The patriarchal mindset and preference for male children is compounded by unethical conduct on the part of some medical practitioners," Mr. Singh said.

When the facts of this tragedy are brought up, many defensive Indians offer the examples of famous Indian women like Indra Nooyi, Kalpana Chawla, Saina Nehwal, Kalpana Morparia, Sunita Williams and Naina Lal, and ask how India is still able to produce such women of accomplishment with growing female infanticides. Instead of looking at the accomplished middle-aged Indian women, Indians should compare the at-birth male-female ratios and worry about the fact that India is now killing future Indra Nooyis.

If this female genocide continues unabated, India's male-female ratio will be so badly skewed in a decade or two that girls' families will start demanding dowry to marry off their daughters, representing a fundamental shift in the balance of power. And the contributions of the well-educated and economically string girls will earn new respect by the male-dominated Indian society.

The first step toward correcting a problem is to acknowledge it, as India's prime minister has done. But legislation alone will not help. As early as 1795, female infanticide was declared murder by the initiative of John Duncan, the British East India Company's resident in Benares, according to Dharma Kumar. But the enforcement has been extremely difficult. The key is to couple stricter enforcement with grassroots education effort to change Indian society.

My sincere hope is that men of honor and goodwill such as Manmohan Singh will step up their national campaign to stop this ongoing female genocide in India before it's too late.

Here are a couple of video clips about India's female genocide:

Related Links:

Status of Women in Pakistan

A Woman Speaker: Another Token or Real Change

"Disappearing Daughters"

The World Factbook

India's Save a Girl Child Campaign

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Saturday, July 4, 2009

Chinese Fireworks Light Up US Skies on July 4th

The Chinese technology will be on full display in the United States as America celebrates its Independence Day today. As the world's factory, China's fireworks industry provides 98 percent of America's overall needs, and 80 percent of the pyrotechnics needed for professional displays. Liu Donghui, the secretary-general of China-based International Fireworks Association, told the USA Today that Liuyang's factories alone produced $1 billion worth of fireworks last year, some $430 million of it to meet overseas orders.

Chinese fireworks business literally booms every 4th of July as millions of pounds of explosives soar as high as a thousand feet in America's skies, creating beautiful patterns of red, white, blue and other colors. The U.S. has celebrated its Independence Day with increasingly spectacular fireworks since the first celebration in 1776 when John Adams ordered that July 4 should be marked with “illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this time forward forevermore.”

Fireworks originated in China some 2,000 years ago. China's Liu Yang region of Hunan Province continues to be the factory of the world for fireworks. It is important to remember the geographic origin of fireworks, because often critics of the fireworks industry say that fireworks are produced in China to take advantage of cheap labor. But the reality is that the fireworks industry developed in China long before the modern era of globalization and long before the disparity in east-west wage rates. The rapid industrialization of China during the last two decades has only strengthened its fireworks industry exports.

Pyro Spectaculars, one of the family-run firms that dominate U.S. fireworks, puts on the New York fireworks show, according to the Wall Street Journal. Its chief executive, James Souza, makes several scouting trips to Liu Yang, China, each year to meet with manufacturers about new shells, cardboard balls as wide as 12-inches in diameter, filled with gun powder and chemicals. The rest of the year he spends at a 160-acre World War II military munitions facility in the desert outside Rialto, Calif. There, at Pyro headquarters, he can freely test explosives.

While the basic chemistry of fireworks has not changed much since its early origins in China, there have been dramatic advances in how the pyrotechnic shows are created and managed for their spectacular visual and sound effects synchronized to music. The extravagant pyrotechnic shows have now become a beautiful blend of art and science.

New microchips embedded in shells now make it possible for fireworks to explode at a specific height. Last July 4, Grucci’s of New York wrote “U.S.A.” in the sky as singer Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.” played, reports the Wall Street Journal. It’s tricky to get a shell to break precisely so that it looks like an M, not a W. Next year’s goal: high-definition bursts that explode at lower levels but look crisp on TV.

According to the Journal, fireworks companies began using computers in the late 1980s to remotely ignite fireworks with an electric match that makes contact with a gun powder fuse. The gun powder, called “black powder,” launches the shell skyward. When the fuse reaches the explosive matter inside the shell, the firework goes off and the stars explode in a fixed pattern and color. Popular “cakes,” the name for a cluster of fireworks linked with a single fuse that burst at various heights, are called “Apocalypse Now,” “One Bad Mother-in-Law,” and “Dante’s Inferno.”

In addition to hundreds of millions of dollars worth of Chinese fireworks, most of the US flags, estimated at $5 million dollars a year, on display on this 4th of July are imported from China as well.

So the Chinese fireworks and flag businesses celebrate 4th of July each year with the Americans by exporting what America needs to have fun on its Independence Day each year.

Fireworks and flags are among the myriad exports from industrialized China that make up about 25% of the Chinese economy, significantly higher than the exports accounting for 15% of India's GDP and only 10% of Pakistani GDP among the less globalized economies in South Asia.

Related Links:

Chinese PLA's Role in Industrialization

China's Checkbook Power

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