Thursday, May 24, 2012

Three things I didn't know about India

India, as the world's second most populous nation (soon to overtake China), has challenges that match its scale. Amongst them are poverty, ethnic and religious tensions, severe water stress and widespread malnutrition. Yet for the last few decades India has been experiencing a huge economic boom, fairly consistently posting GDP growth rates amongst the highest in the world.

This much I already knew. But I recently came across this article, (H/T Colin) which looks at Indian nutrition and points out some rather surprising (at least to me) realities. Here were three things I didn't know:

  1. There are more malnourished children in India than in all of Africa.
  2. Indian nutrition figures have declined significantly since the 1970s, despite rapidly rising GDP.
  3. Urbanisation is often a very big step backwards nutritionally for the poorest, despite bringing (on average) a large rise in income, due city living having much higher costs.
The causes, consequences and possible responses to these challenges are complex and it is not my intention to address them just now. Yet reading this piece has reminded me once again why GDP is insufficient on its own as a measure of social health. It is possible for GDP and something as fundamental as nutrition to be heading in opposite directions, even over a country as large as India and over the space of four decades (ensuring this isn't a statistical blip based on small sample size).

So next time a politician tries to scare you or bribe you by referring to "the economy", remember the limitations of GDP.


byron smith said...

Guardian: Why is India so bad for women? Some shocking details here.

"a poll of 370 gender specialists around the world [...] voted India the worst place to be a woman out of all the G20 countries. [...] Saudi Arabia was at the second-worst"