The key to achieving the Millennium Development Goals lies in sharing resources, opportunities, and benefits, and in ensuring that those who wield power become responsible and accountable. Every day is a new beginning for hope and betterment in the village of Charampa in Orissa state, India. On an ordinary day two years ago, at the crack of dawn, Lila, a mother of three, hurried to the village well. She went to draw water for her home and for the tiny patch of land where she grows vegetables and jowar, barely producing enough for two meals a day. Today, due to erratic rainfall, the well had nearly gone dry and the land almost became infertile. Lila sighed, "My husband went to Cuttack to find work. He never returned. I have to feed the family. Without rain, what should I do? I have a ration card. We walk all the way to the fair-price shop, but there is nothing in stock or the grains are rotten!" Her eldest daughter, Mala, dropped out of school at age nine to help with the household chores and care for her younger siblings. School for Mala was humiliating -- there was no closed toilet for girls.
Lila approached the village council several times with little luck until one day, Mr. Mohan, a civil servant from Tamil Nadu state, was deputed to Lila's district. Previously, Mr. Mohan had undertaken several successful poverty reduction projects, including the creation of women's self-help groups, provisions for micro credit, and implementation of the free midday meal scheme for students in government primary schools. Mr. Mohan transferred these experiences to Charampa. Additionally, he enlisted various non-governmental organizations to train the villagers in watershed management to ensure a sufficient water supply during the dry season and, under his supervision, the fair-price shops improved the villagers' access to grain storage and food distribution services. Today, Lila does not suffer from a lack of rain; the stored water is sufficient for dry spells. Her family does not go to bed hungry, and all of her children go to school.
There is much emphasis on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in India, yet there are many achievement gaps. Greater integration of initiatives for the MDGs could quicken the pace. Even if the MDGs were achieved, how could the results be sustained and the remaining gaps bridged? For example, MDG 1 calls for halving by 2015 the proportion of people living on less than a dollar a day. What about the remaining half? What if some people fall back into poverty? Solutions must be sustainable. For this to happen, it is vital to understand the links between the MDGs and to adopt an integrated approach. In this article, we try to identify sustainable solutions linking the three MDGs concerning poverty and food security, environmental management, and gender equality.
Food Security Food production in India is deemed sufficient for its entire population of little over one billion, yet nearly 200 million Indians remain hungry every day. One reason for this is the unequal distribution of food. The Indian Government spends nearly R500 billion every year on the Public Distribution System (PDS) to ensure food security. This system is still inadequate. In most villages, people walk miles only to be sent back because supplies are not available. If they miss the stipulated distribution day, they lose the opportunity to buy the entire month's supply. In Tamil Nadu, however, the government has worked to establish fair-price shops so that no one needed to walk more than 1.5 kilometres. While in states with high levels of hunger, such as Orissa and Bihar, supplies are further reduced by corruption, the PDS in Tamil Nadu has overcome this problem by ensuring that 94 per cent of the fair-price outlets are run by cooperatives and women's self-help groups to increase transparency. In doing so, Tamil Nadu has established a nearly universal distribution system, and malnutrition rates in the state have gone down considerably.
As in Tamil Nadu, various state governments need to select efficient and committed officials to take charge, and rope in people's participation that has been found is necessary for the success of any welfare scheme.
Since 1996, the PDS in India has been restructured, resulting in the neglect of nearly 57 per cent of the economically vulnerable population. The Indian Government has many schemes to improve food security: the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, the National Food for Work Programme, and the Antyodya Anna Yojna. However, these schemes are only partially successful because they overlap and their implementation is weak. Schemes with common objectives should be integrated for efficient resource management. However, even if the schemes worked, many people would remain deprived. To overcome this, the Indian government could use information technology to identify and target the correct strata of the population.
Environment Management Current food production in India may be sufficient for its population, but the future bodes uncertain due to climate change. Ecological poverty is high in India despite an abundance of natural resources. There is scarcity of water for irrigation. Previously, monsoons were predictable and agriculture was planned around them. However, global climate change and erratic rainfall patterns have since begun to adversely affect agriculture. Farmers have neither regular rainfall nor sufficient water reserves. Irrigation subsidies have benefited the farmers greatly, but have also caused land degradation in some areas due to excessive water use. There is an urgent need for widespread community-based watershed management.
Development strategies need to be a coordinated effort of the government, the farming community, and non-governmental organizations. University students often undertake such projects as part of their curriculum. Through these projects, every college can link with a village and have students innovate and contribute to watershed management, as well as to educate and empower the farming community, while the government can provide monetary assistance to build these watersheds.
Gender Equality For women in rural India, the most common source of livelihood is agriculture. About 55 to 65 per cent of all agricultural work is done by women. In a year, a woman works approximately 3,000 hours compared to the 1,200 hours by a man. During the off-season, unskilled women have no means of earning a living. In addition, as they cannot easily carry out strenuous physical work, their scope for earning a livelihood is further limited. Watershed management could relieve women from hard physical labour and give them time to acquire new skills.
Male-dominated work areas deny equal opportunities and compensation to women. Women have very little autonomy in their households and society. Empowerment of women begins with literacy and education. India recognizes education as a fundamental right, yet 45.4 per cent of all Indian women are illiterate. Female illiteracy in rural India is not easily addressed and, although the situation is improving, girls who wish to go to school often face obstacles. Schools are few and far between. Many parents allow their sons, but not their daughters, to walk miles to school. Traditionally, Indian society expects girls to look after the family and help with household chores. Girls are consequently discouraged from attending school, especially beyond the age of twelve. Moreover, rural schools often lack private toilets for girls, which is a significant deterrent.
The implementation of governmental policy for non-formal education to increase female literacy has been fairly successful in India: female tutors now teach girls at their own homes in rural areas.
We believe that men need to be sensitized to the issues of gender inequality. Religious and spiritual organizations could do a lot to promote equality. There is a need for widespread awareness of the problems, solutions, and legal provisions relating to gender.
The key to achieving the MDGs lies in sharing resources, opportunities, and benefits, and in ensuring that those who wield power become responsible and accountable. The MDGs are achievable -- what is required is a focused and integrated approach. Let's work together for a better tomorrow!