Archive for July, 2011

Will the Elderly Bring Down India?

Posted on July 29, 2011, by Hanna Ingber, under Culture, Health, India, International.

MUMBAI, India — Maqbool Beg has been driving a rickshaw for 42 years. Now, at the age of 62, his children have grown, his beard has turned white, his teeth are red from years of chewing betel nut. And he suffers from high blood pressure. But he keeps on driving.

He needs the money. Thanks to inflation and the high cost of living in Mumbai, Beg has never been able to save. The 4,500 rupees (about $100) he earns a month make him ineligible for even a small government handout. Beg and his wife cannot rely on their sons, who earn even less working as a tailor and mechanic.

“Until I can no longer work, I will work,” he said, waiting outside a mobile health van in Bandra East, a suburb of Mumbai.

Beg is one of India’s 81 million elderly (technically, those over 60). While much of the attention on India’s population focuses on its young, the country also faces a rapidly growing elderly segment.

About half of India’s 1.2 billion people are younger than 25. India’s youth are often touted as the country’s best hope for one day surpassing China in economic growth rates.

Every year, India increases by the size of the population of Australia, and many blame nagging poverty on such stats. In some parts of India, local officials are taking extreme measures to try to curb numbers of children in families. In poor northern states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, an average woman still bears four children over her lifetime.

But, as with many things in India, the problem of too many children presents a contradiction.

It turns out that, overall, family planning efforts and rapid social development have resulted in lower fertility rates in most Indian states. Fertility rates have fallen from about six births per woman in the 1960s and 1970s to about 2.6 births in 2008, according to the U.N. Population Fund.

Smaller families and longer life spans have set India on a path to facing a massive population of elderly, say advocates for the aging and demographers.

Due to changes in social norms and the ongoing breakdown of joint families, much of this population of elderly will not have India’s traditional family system to support them. Furthermore, the state has not put into place adequate services for the aging, say advocates. The elderly — long deeply respected and honored in Indian culture — will be left to fend for themselves.

India’s population over 60 is expected to more than triple by 2050, and its 80-plus population is expected to quintuple, according to an article, “India’s Baby Boomers: Dividend or Disaster?” by David E. Bloom, a professor of economics and demography at Harvard University’s School of Public Health.

Activists and experts fear India is not in a position to handle so many old folks.

Continue reading at GlobalPost.

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A Hive of Productivity

Posted on July 27, 2011, by Hanna Ingber, under Business, India, International.

Nearly a billion people worldwide live in slums. Hanna Ingber Win visits Dharavi in Mumbai, one of the world’s largest slums – and a functioning economy that exports goods all over the world

Published in The Times of London July 25, 2011

From a distance, a slum’s haphazard collection of huts piled on top of one another, corrugated metal roofs and makeshift windows looks like a disaster in the making.

And yet, step inside and the picture changes dramatically. Many slums in the developing world, in particular Mumbai’s famous Dharavi, are hives of productivity and ingenuity.

Walk down one of Dharavi’s main thoroughfares or through the zigzagging lanes, and one finds snack shops, restaurants, tailors, bakeries, welders and barbers. In an area called Kumbharwada smoke billows forth from brick kilns as men sit on the floors of their adjacent homes sculpting clay pots on a wheel. In another area, a woman squats in front of a deafening chilli pepper grinder as a boy sits across the lane selling watermelon by the slice. Dharavi swarms with the activity of business.

As the world undergoes rapid urbanisation, more and more people are moving to cities to find work and then – unable to afford proper apartments or houses – creating temporary homes nearby.

As the slums grow, it is time policy makers and urban planners view them more accurately, says Aneerudha Paul, the director of the Kamla Raheja Vidyanidhi Institute of Architecture and Environmental Studies in Mumbai.

A slum such as Dharavi, one of the world’s largest, is not merely a residential area for Mumbai’s poor and downtrodden. Dharavi has a well-established, complex economy and in some ways operates like its own nation state.

Dharavi imports items such as food staples and raw materials, and it exports small-scale, labour-intensive manufacturing like the assembly work of cheap sunglasses. Its massive population – estimated between 700,000 to 1 million people – also becomes a market for goods and services produced there.

What stands out most about Dharavi’s economy is the high level of entrepreneurialism among its residents. Poor people who move into a city like Mumbai do not have the ability to fall back on the state if they cannot find a job. Instead, they must find a way to make do. They might start by selling bananas and eventually open their own shop. The area has more than 5,000 informal businesses, according to a report by the Harvard Business School.

Dharavi’s economic scale has enabled it to become both a producer and consumer of goods, according to Vinod Shetty, the director of the ACORN Foundation India. Businesses within Dharavi serve the population food, goods and even entertainment services. One afternoon, a group of young men gathered on wooden benches in a one-room theatre to watch a Tamil movie.

The nature of a slum like Dharavi also enables entrepreneurs and small businesses to operate with low costs. Many work out of their homes, keeping rent costs down. The congestion enables businesses to sell in volume plus have a constant supply of both skilled and unskilled labourers. Employers avoid the time-consuming bureaucracy involved in setting up formal businesses in India.

However, an informal economy also has drawbacks. Government services like sanitation are rare. Businesses regularly flout labour, environmental and safety regulations. Employers often do not provide safety gear, and employees have no recourse for compensation. Furthermore, informal businesses cannot get bank loans and therefore must rely on expensive moneylenders.

In countries without safety nets or enough formal jobs, slums like Dharavi have become places the poor rely on for housing, services and – most importantly – work.

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Terror returns to Mumbai

Posted on July 26, 2011, by Hanna Ingber, under India, International.

Here is a story I wrote with Andrew Buncombe on this month’s blasts in Mumbai. It was published in the Independent of London.

The spectre of terror and violence returned to India’s financial capital yesterday as three explosions were set off within a matter of minutes, killing at least 21 people and injuring more than 140. Officials described the incident as a terror attack but declined to publicly speculate as to who may have been responsible.

In the first attacks in Mumbai since November 2008, when Pakistan-based militants lay siege to parts of the city for almost three days and killing more than 160 people, the explosions were set off in crowded areas at evening rush hour. Reports suggested the blasts, described as coming from improvised explosive devices, all occurred between 6.50pm and 7.04pm.

Images from the scene of the explosions showed streets slick with blood, people suffering injuries and corpses under plastic sheets. The injured were ferried to hospitals across the city in taxis, trucks and any other available vehicles. Doctors called for blood donations and armed police cordoned off those areas struck by the blasts.

Last night, with cities across India placed on alert, the country’s Home Minister, Palaniappan Chidambaram, said in Delhi that the authorities had no information about further attacks. “I would appeal to the people of Mumbai and people all over the country to remain calm and to remain peaceful. There is no information [regarding] any other bomb or threat.”

He added that because of the timing of the blasts, “we infer that this was a co-ordinated attack by terrorists”.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, local media was already speculating that the blasts were the work of either Lashkar-e-Taiba or the Indian Mujahideen, a home-grown militant organisation that has carried out attacks elsewhere in India. Some reports said that yesterday was the birthday of Ajmal Kasab, the sole survivor of the 10 militants who carried out the 2008 attacks.

Yet the chief minister of the state of Maharashtra, Prithviraj Chavan, also refused to be drawn on the issue of who was responsible. Speaking on television, he added: “It is another attack on the heart of India, an attack on Mumbai.”

Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistan’s President, and its Prime Minister, Yousaf Raza Gillani, were among the first to condemn the blasts and offer their condolences. President Barack Obama offered American help in tracing those responsible. There was no word whether the attack would interfere with scheduled talks later this month in Delhi between the Indian and Pakistani foreign ministers.

The first of yesterday’s blasts hit at 6:50pm in Jhaveri Bazar, a jewellery market in Kalbadevi, the second at Opera House and the third in Dadar West, in central Mumbai. Police said the blast at Opera House appeared to have been the strongest and had caused the most injuries.

Mumbai has been the scene of repeated attacks. In 2006 more than 200 people were killed when explosive devices were detonated on commuter trains. After each attack, locals complain that for all their claims, police do little to improve security. Yesterday evening, people were again reeling from the realisation that the city had become struck by violence they could do nothing to prevent.

“It’s horrendous. Forget whether it’s terrorists or not. To attack unsurprising folks with an IED, I think is horrendous,” said Arun Kapur as he sat in front of his television set watching the news of the attacks in the northern neighbourhood of Bandra. His wife, Rita Kapur, added: “It’s so sad. We really feel so sad. Mumbai used to be such a safe city.”

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Three blasts rattle Mumbai

Posted on July 13, 2011, by Hanna Ingber, under India, International.

PBS NewsHour interviews me about the string of blasts that hit Mumbai during rush hour this evening.

Hanna Ingber Win, GlobalPost’s Mumbai correspondent, said she visited one apartment building in Bandra in northern Mumbai. Residents there were closely monitoring developments on their TVs, updating their Facebook statuses to let people know they were OK and answering phone calls from relatives checking in from abroad.

“There was a feeling of anger that innocent civilians have been killed and a deep feeling of sadness among most people,” she said. But people also weren’t surprised that Mumbai had been attacked again, based on what they had gone through in 2008.

Mumbai — considered India’s cultural and financial capital — is a target because in many ways it represents what India has become. “It’s a very vibrant city with migrants pouring in everyday. It’s growing and booming. There’s a real entrepreneurial sense here,” she said.

Win also noted that those she spoke to said that while they can no longer live their lives without any fear of terrorist attacks, they still would go to Mumbai’s city centers. Their mentality was “you have to live your life and you do have to go on.”

Continue reading at PBS.

And GlobalPost has a Raw Feed with my reporting from Mumbai. Watch the video here.

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