| | |

Pesticide Exposure and India's green revolution

Pesticide exposure in Punjab and Haryana is out of control. When I was growing up, the Green Revolution was idolized and idealized to degree that in hindsight seems a little excessive. But back then, this octupling of wheat and rice yields in Punjab and Haryana catalyzed the transformation of India from a country mired in famine and food shortages to one that occasionally runs out of room to store excess food. So, this story (courtesy of 3QD) caught my attention.

Green.view | Chemical generation |

IF INDIAN newspaper reports are to be believed, the children of Punjab are in the throes of a grey revolution. Even those as young as ten are sprouting tufts of white and grey hair. Some are going blind. In Punjabi villages, children and adults rare afflicted by uncommon cancers.

The reason is massive and unregulated use of pesticides and other agricultural chemicals in India’s most intensively farmed state. According to an environmental report by Punjab’s government, the modest-sized state accounts for 17% of India’s total pesticide use. The state’s water, people, animals, milk and agricultural produce are all poisoned with the stuff.

Ignorance is part of the problem. The report includes details of a survey suggesting that nearly one-third of Punjabi farmers were unaware that pesticides come with instructions for use. Half of the farmers ignored these instructions. Three-quarters put empty pesticide containers to domestic uses.

The article concludes by saying that the government is encouraging the use of techniques including organic farming, more crop rotation, etc, and how this is ironically “reversing” the green revolution. But two separate issues are getting mixed up here. The green revolution was not won on excessive use of fertilizers, monoculture, excessive water use, and so on. Instead, the development of new hybrid, high yielding varieties of rice and wheat kick started the revolution. The wholesale adoption of water and input intensive agricultural techniques came along for for the ride with the rest of the revolution.

Hopefully, the Punjab government will not stop at writing reports, but start grassroots education projects with the farmers to encourage sensible farming techniques that take the good parts of the green revolution and leave the bad parts out.


One Person's Carbon Offset – Another's Child labor?

The ‘carbon offset’ child labourers – Times Online

“Pumping furiously on a foot treadle in the afternoon heat, six-year-old Sarju Ram is irrigating her impoverished family’s field, improving the crop and – without knowing it – helping environmentally sensitive holiday-makers assuage their guilt over long-haul flights to dream destinations.

But Sarju and her four brothers and sisters working flat out in a clump of trees that provide scant shelter from the sun illustrate a growing argument over claims that British environmentalists’ efforts to curb greenhouse emissions are inadvertently fuelling an increase in child labour.”

Carbon Offsets are a pricing mechanism setup where people can sign up to pay various companies to compensate for their greenhouse gas emissions by funding mitigation projects, such as planting trees, funding renewable energy projects, and in this case, paying money to farmers (and their families) to pump their water using a foot pump. Terrapass is one such well known company and there are many others.

I am not so sure I would characterize this as exploitative child labor. There’s plenty of that going around in conventional manufacturing in Asia, not to mention children being used to kill. Compared to this general egregiousness, the prospect of a farmer’s kid, who would be working on the farm anyway, biking away for half an hour so his family can get some extra money does not sound all that bad. Yes, the colonialistic aspects of the story hit me in the face and makes me want to condemn a practice where a rich Westerner pays a poor farmer to pedal away for hours so she can fly to the Galapagos for a eco-vacation.

But, in the end, these offsets do something. No, they will not do anything to slow (well, maybe a little, imperceptibly, perhaps?) CO2 emissions. Obviously, there’s no substitute to comprehensive worldwide carbon reduction strategy which prices carbon correctly, does not put barriers on technology transfer, and does not transfer greenhouse emissions from the US to Western Europe to China and India in the name of efficiency while doing nothing to ensure that that this manufacturing uses clean technology. Offsets make people aware of their actions, and choices they can make. This makes them (I hope) more likely to support major climate change legislation. It is more about attitudinal change than major change. But calling this child labor and exploitation is, I think, unwarranted.

Rama's Real – Don't dare dredge his bridge!

satview.gifJust suspend the two officials who had the temerity to say that “religious texts were not evidence that Lord Ram ever existed” I could not have said it better myself, but hey, this is India, where an allegorical tale about a king who is the paragon of virtue and fights a big battle with the evil king of Sri Lanka to reclaim his abducted wife Sita is now the rallying point for a religion not known for its rallying.

BBC NEWS | South Asia | Offer to quit in India gods row:

Officials had presented the argument in court to support construction plans for an area devotees believe has remnants of a bridge built by the Hindu god Ram.

Minister Ambika Soni said she would quit if asked to by the prime minister.

She also confirmed that two directors of the Archaeological Survey of India, which prepared the court affidavit, had been suspended.

In the course of Rama’s battles, he enlists an army of “monkeys” in South India to help him build a bridge between the Southern tip of India and Sri Lanka.

Firstly, this whole army of monkeys thing screams of race differences (Macaca, anyone?). Southern Indians tend to be darker than their Northern brethren thanks to fewer Central Asian influences. There were also quite a few dark tribes in the South. So, if Rama indeed came that far South, it’s likely he enlisted local help from us darkie southerners. Yeah, call us monkeys, will ya!

Secondly, Rama is the least Hindu of all gods. He is a one-dimensional uber god with no faults, vices or weaknesses. He rescues his wife from the clutches of the evil Lankan king, only to make her walk through fire to prove her chastity. She passes this fire test rather easily, after some divine intervention, only to to be summarily banished to the forest (while pregnant, mind you) when aspersions are cast about her chastity by a snarky subject.

Yes, paragon of every patriarchal, women as helpless property loving, godly virtue is our Lord Ram. Hinduism is filled with interesting goddesses and gods, and is replete with tales of cheating gods, philandering goddesses, short tempered goddesses, could these folks not have picked a cool goddess such as Kali, or Durga (ha, same person!)? I guess the reason Rama was picked by the Sangh Parvivar (Parivar means family in Hindi, so saying Sangh Parivar is kinda like saying Corleone family) because he’s a nice stick figure paragon of male virtue that makes for a simplistic and easy rallying cry.

Well, in the classic inverse-inverse pyramid style of blogging, one long rant about Hindu fundamentalism aside, what is all the fuss about? Well, there’s a project to dredge some of the sand bars just off the South Indian coast to open up some shipping lanes and save some time. I had blogged about it quite a while back, there are definitely some environmental concerns. But Rama’s bridge, c’mon!

| | |

Shaming People into Pooping Indoors

Meanwhile, in the other India, people still poop outdoors…

Using shame to change sanitary habits – Los Angeles Times

Every morning before sunrise, Ravi Shankar Singh, a cheerful man known to his neighbors as “Luv” Singh, sets out to patrol the potholed roads and rice fields of this north Indian village. He carries a whistle and a flashlight. He sings while he walks. The village’s self-appointed sanitation guardian, Singh is on the lookout for anyone squatting in the fields or alleys, using the cover of darkness to do what millions of people have always done across India: defecate outdoors. After years of programs to increase the number of latrines in villages, the government still has not managed to eradicate a practice that is cited in the spread of water-borne illnesses and parasites, such as diarrhea and hookworms. Critics say the obstacle is not so much the shortage of latrines, though that, too, remains a problem for nearly half of India’s rural population. The main challenge is getting people to use the facilities they have. Singh says he’s found a way. When he spots someone squatting, he lets loose with a blast on his whistle. Or shines his light on the offender. Or both.

This is clearly a serious public health issue and one that is linked to many avoidable deaths from disease. I am not sure if blowing whistles at people is an ethical way to do it. In a country where actual toilet facilities are still rare, and the people who grew up in this scarcity have internalized the fact that they have to “externalize” their poop, just providing facilities and shaming them is not enough.

Just as with most things in India, no easy answers, I guess the right combination of education (especially targeting the young), enforcement through fines, and most importantly, saturation coverage of clean and easily available toilets would eventually work.  But it will take time, and of course, public urination is a completely  different beast!

| | |

Meanwhile, in the other India

While India prepares to spend many billions of dollars on fighter jets, it cannot provide clean water for its citizens.

Cholera-diarrhoea toll mounts to 164 in Orissa-India-The Times of India

Cholera and diarrhoea, having assumed epidemic proportions in three tribal dominated Orissa districts, have so far claimed 164 lives as officials confirmed five more deaths in worst-hit Koraput on Thursday.

The death toll, which had mounted to 159 on Wednesday, further rose to 164 with confirmation of five casualties in Dasmantpur block of Koraput district, Chief District Medical Officer (CDMO) R K Agarwal said.

While the toll in Koraput district went up to 73, the situation remained by and large unchanged in Rayagada with 64 casualties as the killer diseases claimed as many as 27 lives in Kalahandi, official sources said.

The water-borne diseases had assumed epidemic form in nine blocks of these three backward districts located adjacent to each other though separated by hills and the waterspread of the vast Indravati reservoir.

Despite state government’s claim to have effectively controlled the spread of the diseases, residents of the affected areas alleged that the administration had failed to provide adequate medical facilities to the patients.

This is disgusting and very symptomatic of the urban-rural divide that exists in India. Unless the government can provide basic infrastructure to its rural citizens, all those fancy malls and F16s mean little.

| |

India at 60 – A Public Health Perspective

Well, at least I don’t have to take part in endless parades and listen to speeches any more. But India turned 60 today, and the head of the Indian public health foundation takes stock, and it is sobering.

The Hindu : Persisting public health challenges

Recent health indicators in India are a cause for both celebration and concern. While life expectancy at birth has risen to 63 years, infant mortality rate (IMR) and maternal mortality rate (MMR) are still at unacceptably high levels (57 per 1000 and 301 per 100,000 live births respectively). There is widespread disparity among States with Kerala being the star performer. Within States, the rural areas are way behind the urban segments. Even as our economy has grown rapidly, the nutritional status of children has remained stunted, suggesting that wide income disparities are preventing the poor from becoming the beneficiaries of growth.

Yes, I be the killjoy.

More from Amartya Sen

There is reason enough to celebrate many things happening in India right now. But there are failures as well, which need urgent attention. For example, there is still widespread undernourishment in general and child undernutrition in particular–at a shocking level. The failures include, quite notably, the astonishing neglect of elementary education in India, with a quarter of the population–and indeed half the women–still illiterate.

The average life expectancy in India is still low (below 64) and infant mortality very high (58 per 1,000 live births). It is certainly true that India has narrowed the shortfall behind China in these areas–that is, in life expectancy and infant mortality–but there is still some distance to go for the country as a whole. The problems are gigantic in some of the more “backward” states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. And yet there are other states in which the Indian numbers are similar to China’s.

he goes on…

If India has to overcome these failures, it has to spend much more money on expanding the social infrastructure, particularly school education and basic health care. It also needs to spend much more in building up a larger physical infrastructure, including more roads, more power supplies and more water. In some of these, the private sector can help. But a lot more has to be spent on public services themselves, in addition to improving the system of delivery of these services, with more attention paid to incentives and disciplines, and better cooperation with the unions, consumer groups and other involved parties.

Ah, basic and boring infrastructure building!

| | |

The real terrorist: Pollution

It is true. A staggering number of people die every year due to lack of access to clean water, air or food. Aggregate statistics like these are a good way to summarize the humongous nature of the problem. While reams and reams of coverage and attention are focused on “terrorists”, people all around the world die of much more mundane causes such as bacteria in water, smog, poverty, starvation, malnourishment, etc.

ScienceDaily: Pollution Causes 40 Percent Of Deaths Worldwide, Study Finds

About 40 percent of deaths worldwide are caused by water, air and soil pollution, concludes a Cornell researcher. Such environmental degradation, coupled with the growth in world population, are major causes behind the rapid increase in human diseases, which the World Health Organization has recently reported. Both factors contribute to the malnourishment and disease susceptibility of 3.7 billion people, he says.

| |

Water Find to End Darfur War – Well, not so fast!

Beware the dangers of the overhyped press release machine (or sciencedaily, pick your poison). All Farouk El-Baz saw when he did the radar study was a giant depression. It is TBD whether there’s water in them thar holes!’

BBC NEWS | Africa | Ancient Darfur lake is dried up

Alain Gachet, who used satellite images and radar in his research, said the area received too little rain and had the wrong rock types for water storage. But the French geologist said there was enough water elsewhere in Darfur to end the fighting and rebuild the economy.

On Wednesday, Boston Universitys Farouk El-Baz said he had received the backing of Sudans government to begin drilling for water in the newly-discovered lake, in North Darfur.

No wonder they say that water is the 21st century oil. This guy’s going to be drilling for water (also known as well digging!).


North Carolina to establish birding trail

This is good news, maybe just the ticket to reawaken my long dormant birdwatching predelictions. The money this brings in will doubtless fund the continued existence of wetlands and other endangered habitats. | Beauty, bucks sought in bird trail

SWANSBORO – With hundreds of colorful birds already visiting and calling Eastern North Carolina home, the state is encouraging bird lovers to bring their binoculars and billfolds to watch them. The N.C. Birding Trail unveiled this week links dozens of sites long known to birders as packed with rare, popular or threatened species, such as the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker.

But state officials are promoting the trail as nature-themed tourism and hope it will give the financially stressed region an economic boost.Forget the notion of birdwatching as a sedate, nerdy activity. Now hunting and fishing guides are running bird charters and bird-related tourism is worth millions.

“We have people coming here from all over the country,” said John Ennis of Brunswick County, eastern vice president of the Carolina Bird Club. “It’s a great resource.”

When completed, the North Carolina trail will include dozens of places across the state that visitors can reach by car and look for more than 440 species of birds.

The first section, which highlights the coastal region, includes 102 birding sites in 16 groupings east of Interstate 95. A Piedmont trail that will bundle sites between Interstate 95 and Interstate 77 is scheduled to be completed next year with a mountain trail slated after that.

At least 100 sites have already been approved for the Piedmont section with three dozen in the Triangle. Birders will be directed to state and local lands such as Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve in Cary, Raleigh’s Lake Johnson Park, Eno River State Park in Orange County and Duke Forest in Durham County.

Salinda Daley, N.C. Birding Trail Coordinator, said that describing the program as a trail causes some misunderstanding because it is not just lines on a map. She said promotional material links spectacular bird watching sites and birders with communities and businesses.

hey, who’re you calling a nerd!!


Brazil proposes G5 summit

interesting news that India, China, Mexico, Brazil and South Africa decide that they no longer need to be invited to the (not so) G(r)8 meeting to talk to each other. This is a welcome development in many ways, may they keep talking.

The Hindu : Front Page : Brazil proposes G5 summit

Though largely overshadowed by the brief “pull aside” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had with U.S. President George W. Bush, the most significant aspect of last week’s G8 meetings was the new dialectic that emerged among the five countries which were invited to Germany as “outreach” partners.

At a meeting of the five — Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa — Brazilian President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva took the lead in proposing that the group consider getting together again at a forum other than that of the G8 so that its own meetings are no longer incidental to the meetings and agenda of the eight most industrialised countries.

The proposal was welcomed by the other leaders, say Indian officials familiar with the June 7 deliberations of the “outreach,” or O-5, in Berlin. China’s President Hu Jintao noted that the five countries together accounted for 42 per cent of the world’s population and Dr. Singh quoted an old statement of Jawaharlal Nehru that developing countries were partners and not petitioners before the chanceries of the world.