Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Opening the Western Ghats up for a free-for-all jamboree will have consequences - See more Opening the-western-ghats-up-for-a-free-for-all-jamboree-will-have-consequences

No hindrance to growth, never mind the collateral damage: This seems to be the mantra of all Indian governments, state and central, since the 1990s.
Publicly, this stand, however, is carefully hidden behind the mask of sustainable development.
All governments swear by this popular phrase but no one believes in it.
This was evident once again in the Western Ghats case. Last week, in an affidavit filed by the ministry for environment and forests before the National Green Tribunal, the Centre said it would not implement the controversial Madhav Gadgil report on the Western Ghats, which was criticised for being more environment-friendly and not in tune with the ground realities, but would act according to the suggestions made by the K Kasturirangan panel, which was set up to study the Gadgil Committee report.
Like its predecessor, the Kasturirangan panel also put restrictions on mining and other polluting industries in the ecologically sensitive areas; however, it didn’t recommend an overarching central authority to review projects and development, among other differences.
But don’t think it is the pro-industry NDA which is up to some mischief here; the pro-poor UPA was also cut from the same cloth.
In fact, it was the UPA that in October 2013 issued a notification giving principle approval to implement the Kasturirangan committee report.
The only difference between the two is that while the UPA dragged its feet on the matter fearing political repercussions, the NDA confident after its morale-boosting election victory took a final call. The NDA, however, is planning to go ahead way more: It is planning to dilute two UPA-era environmental laws — the National Green Tribunal Act and the Forests Rights Act — which have held up key industrial projects in the past.
While being enthusiastic about growth and opening up pristine and ecologically sensitive areas for the greater common good is all very good, the truth is that nature has its own ways of responding to excessive pressure as it happened in Uttarakhand in 2013 and Malin (Maharashtra) recently.
Older than the Himalayas, the Ghats’ ecosystem plays a critical role in influencing the monsoon and weather patterns in the subcontinent.
So opening it up for a free-for-all jamboree without stringent restrictions will have consequences that could affect not only the six states that the Ghats cover but also the country.

Source:Hindustan Times

Taking healthcare to India’s remote tribes

In his address to the nation on Independence Day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke about inclusive development, with food security, safe housing and sanitation being the rights of every citizen. Health is intimately linked to these essentials of living. The health status of India’s tribal communities is in need of special attention. Being among the poorest and most marginalised groups in India, tribals experience extreme levels of health deprivation. The tribal community lags behind the national average on several vital public health indicators, with women and children being the most vulnerable.

Several studies on maternal health show poorer nutritional status, higher levels of morbidity and mortality, and lower utilisation of antenatal and postnatal services among tribals. Under-five mortality rates among rural tribal children remain startlingly high, at 95 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2006 compared with 70 among all children. A recent study in Melghat district of Maharashtra revealed that 80 per cent of tribal women weighed under 50 kg and 74 per cent of under-five children were malnourished. “Starvation deaths” continue to be reported from tribal areas, including from advanced States like Kerala.

Health problems prevalent in tribal areas include endemic infectious diseases like malaria, tuberculosis, and diarrhoeal diseases, apart from malnutrition and anaemia. What is worrying is that the prevalence of chronic diseases such as hypertension and diabetes mellitus, hitherto rare in these populations, is rising, and stroke and heart disease are now the leading causes of death. Some of the highest rates of tuberculosis in the country have been reported from the Sahariya tribe of Madhya Pradesh. Similarly, deaths due to malaria occur disproportionately among tribals.

Reasons for poor health
Research has shown that 75 per cent of India’s tribal population defecates in the open and 33 per cent does not have access to a clean source of drinking water. Insanitary conditions, ignorance, lack of health education and poor access to healthcare facilities are the main factors responsible for the poor health of tribals. Further, displacement from their traditional forest homes and natural source of food and lack of livelihoods makes them dependent on the public distribution system (PDS) and other government handouts for survival. Most tribal groups are traditionally hunter-gatherers and not accustomed to agriculture — their diets, therefore, are now severely limited in fruits and vegetables as well as good sources of protein (including fish and meat). Polished rice and cereals available through the PDS have replaced diverse dietary food baskets.

Although the government has provided for the establishment of Primary Health Centres (PHCs) in tribal areas for every 20,000 population and sub-centres for every 3,000 population, quality healthcare is not available to the majority of tribals. Posts of doctors and paramedicals are often vacant. Additionally, the non-availability of essential drugs and equipment, inadequate infrastructure, difficult terrain and constraints of distance and time (one Auxiliary Nurse Midwife is responsible for 15-20 scattered villages), and the lack of transport and communication facilities further hinder healthcare delivery. The geographical and infrastructural challenges to public health and the lack of health-related knowledge among tribals are exploited by quacks (unqualified medical practitioners), who are often available at the doorstep. Though some traditional practices and superstitions persist, acceptance of modern medicine has increased in recent years, but access to good care is the major issue. Levels of illiteracy are high, with 47 per cent in rural areas and 21.8 per cent in urban areas being unable to read and write. Better educated tribal communities will be better aware of their healthcare needs (and rights) as well as of better care-seeking practices.

Though successive Five Year Plans have provided for the needs of tribal populations within different schemes, and a large amount of funds are allocated, little improvement has been noted on the ground. The poor health of tribal populations cannot be overcome by mere establishment of more PHCs and sub-centres. Scarcity of trained manpower for health is a major problem and an obstacle to the extension of health services to rural and tribal areas. Traditional healers, who are often the first point of care, can be sensitised and trained to deliver simple interventions like ORS for diarrhoea and anti-malarials as well as to refer patients to the PHC in a timely manner. Tribal boys and girls (who complete school but often have no further opportunities) could be trained as community health workers or nurses and incentivised to stay and work in their own communities. A successful example is the ASHWINI Gudalur Adivasi hospital in the Nilgiris, where the management and most staff (except the doctors) are tribal. Nutritional counselling and education, establishment of kitchen gardens and provision of a more diverse range of food items through the PDS would help in curtailing macro and micronutrient deficiencies. More research needs to be done on the traditional herbal medicines used by tribal people and their use encouraged, wherever beneficial.

Scaling up models
The theme of this year’s International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples was “Bridging the gap — implementing the rights of indigenous people.” Tribals’ right to good healthcare must be addressed using modern technology and innovative approaches and most importantly, by involving the community in developing solutions for their problems. Health is intimately linked to food and nutrition security, safe housing and availability of sanitation and clean drinking water. There are many successful examples of good healthcare delivery in remote tribal areas in our country (almost all involving dedicated NGOs working with the people). These models need to be scaled up in order to improve the lives of the most vulnerable and marginalised citizens of our country.

Source:The Hindu