Poverty and Brain Development

How poverty affects the brain, By Carina Storrs, July 12, 2017, Nature: “In the late 1960s, a team of researchers began doling out a nutritional supplement to families with young children in rural Guatemala. They were testing the assumption that providing enough protein in the first few years of life would reduce the incidence of stunted growth. It did. Children who got supplements grew 1 to 2 centimetres taller than those in a control group. But the benefits didn’t stop there. The children who received added nutrition went on to score higher on reading and knowledge tests as adolescents, and when researchers returned in the early 2000s, women who had received the supplements in the first three years of life completed more years of schooling and men had higher incomes…”

Poverty Measurement – India

New poverty formula proves test for India, By Raymond Zhong, July 27, 2014, Wall Street Journal: “India is wrestling with an important question: How do you count the poor if you can’t agree on the definition of poverty? Debate over redrawing the poverty line—the product of reams of academic research, field surveys and mathematical modeling—might seem arcane but carries great consequence. Under a new formula proposed last month by a government-appointed committee, nearly 30% of India’s 1.2 billion people would be classified as poor, up from 22% now, an increase of 94 million people. Decades of disagreement over how to measure the poor in countries around the world suggest there is something unquantifiable about poverty—that, like goodness and obscenity, it may be easier to recognize than to define…”

Poverty Definition – India

Setting a high bar for poverty in India, By Manu Joseph, July 9, 2014, New York Times: “It is not uncommon for Indians to stand in a line to receive alms from a politician as he gives away clothes, pots and laptops that would make Apple laugh. This is a custom that has survived from a time when the theater of charity was enough to make the poor feel grateful. But they have since come to regard such alms as political buffoonery and now expect substantial assistance from the government. To bring order to the public spending that subsidizes hundreds of millions of lives, and to ensure that the poorest receive what is meant for them, India is on a constant quest for a meaningful definition of poverty. . .”

Food Security Bill – India

  • India passes massive program to feed 800 million in poverty, By Mark Magnier, September 2, 2013, Los Angeles Times: “India passed into law Monday an ambitious program to provide nearly free food to some 800 million Indians. Supporters hailed it as a long-overdue fix for the nation’s rampant poverty, while critics slammed it as a shameless and electoral ploy the country can’t afford that will encourage more waste and corruption. The National Food Security Bill gives two-thirds of India’s population the right to buy 12 pounds of rice, wheat, millet or other cereals each month at no more than 3 cents per pound. It also provides food free to pregnant women, lactating mothers and children under 6 years old…”
  • India aims to ease poverty, malnutrition by expanding grain subsidies to reach 800 million, Associated Press, September 3, 2013, Washington Post: “India plans to subsidize wheat, rice and cereals for some 800 million people under a $20 billion scheme to cut malnutrition and ease poverty. The Food Security Bill, sent this week by India’s parliament to the president for approval, guarantees citizens a legal right to food…”

Cash Transfer Program – India

India aims to keep money for poor out of others’ pockets, By Gardiner Harris, January 5, 2013, New York Times: “India has more poor people than any nation on earth, but many of its antipoverty programs end up feeding the rich more than the needy. A new program hopes to change that. On Jan. 1, India eliminated a raft of bureaucratic middlemen by depositing government pension and scholarship payments directly into the bank accounts of about 245,000 people in 20 of the nation’s hundreds of districts, in a bid to prevent corrupt state and local officials from diverting much of the money to their own pockets. Hundreds of thousands more people will be added to the program in the coming months. In a country of 1.2 billion, the numbers so far are modest, but some officials and economists see the start of direct payments as revolutionary — a program intended not only to curb corruption but also to serve as a vehicle for lifting countless millions out of poverty altogether…”

Poverty Measurement – India

  • Who are the poor in India?, By Soutik Biswas, March 21, 2012, BBC News: “Who are the poor in India? The fact is nobody quite knows. There are various estimates on the exact number of poor in India, and the counts have been mired in controversy. This week the Planning Commission said 29.8% of India’s 1.21 billion people live below the poverty line, a sharp drop from 37.2% in 2004-2005. (This means means around 360 million people currently live in poverty.) But one estimate suggests this figure could be as high as 77%. The problem, believe many, is that the new count is based on fixing the poverty line for a person living on 28.65 rupees (56 cents/35p) a day in cities and 22.42 rupees (44 cents/33p) a day in villages…”
  • ‘Sharp drop’ in India poverty due to welfare programmes, March 20, 2012, BBC News: “Poverty in India has dropped sharply, the country’s Planning Commission has said. From 2004-2005 to 2009-2010, the rate fell from 37.2% to 29.8%, which means around 360 million people currently live in poverty. Rural poverty has declined faster than urban poverty during this period. The Planning Commission said the main reason for the reduction in poverty was the government’s increased spending on rural welfare programmes…”

Polio Eradication – India

India celebrates one year without polio cases, huge milestone in fight against disease, Associated Press, January 12, 2012, Washington Post: “India will celebrate a full year since its last reported case of polio on Friday, a major victory in a global eradication effort that seemed stalled just a few years ago. If no previously undisclosed cases of the crippling disease are discovered, India will no longer be considered polio endemic, leaving only Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria on that list. ‘This is a game changer in a huge way,’ said Bruce Aylward, head of the World Health Organization’s global polio campaign. The achievement gives a major morale boost to health advocates and donors who had begun to lose hope of ever defeating the stubborn disease that the world had promised to eradicate by 2000. It also helps India, which bills itself as one of the world’s emerging powers, shed the embarrassing link to a disease associated with poverty and chaos, one that had been conquered long ago by most of the globe…”

Identity Database – India

Scanning 2.4 billion eyes, India tries to connect poor to growth, By Lydia Polgreen, September 1, 2011, New York Times: “Ankaji Bhai Gangar, a 49-year-old subsistence farmer, stood in line in this remote village until, for the first time in his life, he squinted into the soft glow of a computer screen. His name, year of birth and address were recorded. A worker guided Mr. Gangar’s rough fingers to the glowing green surface of a scanner to record his fingerprints. He peered into an iris scanner shaped like binoculars that captured the unique patterns of his eyes. With that, Mr. Gangar would be assigned a 12-digit number, the first official proof that he exists. He can use the number, along with a thumbprint, to identify himself anywhere in the country. It will allow him to gain access to welfare benefits, open a bank account or get a cellphone far from his home village, something that is still impossible for many people in India…”

Poverty Measurement – India

India’s stingy definition of poverty _ $12.75 a month for city dwellers _ called little help, Associated Press, May 27, 2011, Washington Post: “Every day, through scorching summers and chilly winters, Himmat pedals his bicycle rickshaw through New Delhi’s crowded streets, earning barely enough to feed his family. But to India’s government he is not poor – not even close. The 5,000 rupees ($110) he earns a month pays for a tiny room with a single light bulb and no running water for his family of four. After buying just enough food to keep his family from starving, there is nothing left for medicine, new clothes for his children or savings. Still, Himmat is way above India’s poverty line. Earlier this month, India’s Planning Commission, which helps sets economic policy, told the Supreme Court that the poverty line for the nation’s cities was 578 rupees ($12.75) per person a month – or 2,312 rupees ($51.38) for Himmat’s family of four. For rural India, it’s even lower at about 450 rupees ($9.93)…”

Poverty Measurement – India

  • BPL poverty cap placed at 46%, By K. Balchand, May 19, 2011, The Hindu: “The Below the Poverty Line (BPL) census, approved by the Union Cabinet on Thursday, will be an exercise in identifying households that will fit the bill within the poverty cap of 46 per cent of the rural population of India. The identification of the 46 per cent poverty cap, estimated by the Planning Commission, will be done through a set of automatic exclusion and automatic inclusion criteria, and the remaining households will be classified through seven assigned deprivation indicators. At the same time, State-wise caps based on the S.D. Tendulkar methodology have been allowed for better targeting of those living below the poverty line. The 46 per cent cap is lower than the 50 per cent suggested by the N.C. Saxena Committee. Officials have remained silent on the displeasure of the Supreme Court on placing a cap on the BPL list…”
  • India ‘redefines’ poverty for new survey, May 19, 2011, BBC News: “India’s cabinet has approved a proposal for a survey to identify people living below the poverty line, which also redefines what constitutes poverty. It will classify the rural poor into ‘destitutes, manual scavengers and primitive tribal groups’. Urban poor will be defined as those in vulnerable shelters, low-paid jobs and homes headed by women or children. The survey, to be conducted alongside a caste census later this year, will help identify those who need state aid. There are various estimates on the exact number of poor in India…”

Microfinance in India

  • Microfinance struggles to restore its reputation, By Erika Kinetz (AP), March 7, 2011, Boston Globe: “Long heralded as a way to lift the downtrodden out of poverty, microfinance is under a cloud. The stories of lives being changed by a $27 microloan and picture perfect scenes of smiling women with colorful handlooms, empowered by affordable credit, have been replaced by headlines about borrowers driven to suicide. At best, microfinance seems to be failing to achieve its most noble goal: poverty alleviation. At worst, some lenders are contributing to a cycle of indebtedness and abuse, just like the loan sharks they sought to replace. Critics say the industry has grown too quickly for its own good, with too much rapaciousness and too little regulation. That has fostered a breakdown in lending discipline, with multiple loans to overextended borrowers, and allowed some unscrupulous players to thrive…”
  • India’s poor need help to help themselves, By Sarika Bansal, March 7, 2011, The Guardian: “Until recently, microfinance has been the golden child of international development. Microfinance companies would lend small amounts of money to poor women who would, in the ideal scenario, use them to start small businesses. Their interest rates were typically lower than loan sharks’ but still high enough to make a profit. Around the world, development experts believed microfinance was an ideal way to alleviate poverty, a smart way to ‘do good’ while also ‘doing well’. How times have changed. In the last few months, many people have become newly critical. In November, politicians in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh started making bold claims about how microfinance’s crushing interest rates and strongman tactics were, among other things, leading to suicide among over-indebted borrowers…”

Programs for the Poor and Corruption – India

Indian state empowers poor to fight corruption, By Lydia Polgreen, December 2, 2010, New York Times: “The village bureaucrat shifted from foot to foot, hands clasped behind his back, beads of sweat forming on his balding head. The eyes of hundreds of wiry village laborers, clad in dusty lungis, were fixed upon him. A group of auditors, themselves villagers, read their findings. A signature had been forged for the delivery of soil to rehabilitate farmland. The soil had never arrived, and about $4,000 was missing. The bureaucrat, a low-level field assistant who uses the single name Sreekanth, was suspected of stealing it. ‘I am a very rightful person,’ he declared. But the presiding official would have none of it. He ordered that the money be recovered and that Mr. Sreekanth be promptly disciplined. That simple verdict was part of a sweeping experiment in grass-roots democracy in rural India aimed at ensuring that the benefits of government programs for the poor actually go to the poor. It empowers villagers to act as watchdogs and to perform ‘social audits’ like the one that meted out quick justice to Mr. Sreekanth. Their success or failure could have broad implications for India’s quest to lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty…”

Microlending – India

In India, greed creeps into microlending, critics say, By Rama Lakshmi, October 30, 2010, Washington Post: “The microcredit revolution has been celebrated for helping poor women in developing countries start small businesses. By borrowing money for purchases such as a buffalo or sewing machine, the women were able to help lift their families out of poverty. But critics say the microcredit model has been perverted by commercial greed in India, with reports of abusive collection methods and sky-high interest rates…”

Telecommunications in Developing Nations

Nokia taking a rural road to growth, By Kevin O’Brien, November 1, 2010, New York Times: “On Saturday at dawn, hundreds of farmers near Jhansi, an agricultural center in central India, received a succinct but potent text message on their cellphones: the current average wholesale price for 100 kilograms of tomatoes was 600 rupees. In a country where just 7 percent of the population have access to the Internet, such real-time market data is so valuable that the farmers are willing to pay $1.35 a month for the information. What is unusual about the service is the company selling it: Nokia, the Finnish cellphone leader, which unlike its rivals – Samsung, LG, Apple, Research In Motion and Sony Ericsson – is leveraging its size to focus on some of the world’s poorest consumers. Since 2009, 6.3 million people have signed up to pay Nokia for commodity data in India, China and Indonesia. On Tuesday, Nokia plans to announce it is expanding the program, called Life Tools, part of its Ovi mobile services business, to Nigeria…”

Microfinance and the Poor – India

Sun co-founder uses capitalism to help poor, By Vika Bajaj, October 5, 2010, New York Times: “Vinod Khosla, the billionaire venture capitalist and co-founder of Sun Microsystems, was already among the world’s richest men when he invested a few years ago in SKS Microfinance, a lender to poor women in India. But the roaring success of SKS’s recent initial public stock offering in Mumbai has made him richer by about $117 million – money he says he plans to plow back into other ventures that aim to fight poverty while also trying to turn a profit. And he says he wants to challenge other rich Indians to do more to help their country’s poor…”

Hunger and Malnutrition – India

India asks, should food be a right for the poor?, By Jim Yardley, August 8, 2010, New York Times: “Inside the drab district hospital, where dogs patter down the corridors, sniffing for food, Ratan Bhuria’s children are curled together in the malnutrition ward, hovering at the edge of starvation. His daughter, Nani, is 4 and weighs 20 pounds. His son, Jogdiya, is 2 and weighs only eight. Landless and illiterate, drowned by debt, Mr. Bhuria and his ailing children have staggered into the hospital ward after falling through India’s social safety net. They should receive subsidized government food and cooking fuel. They do not. The older children should be enrolled in school and receiving a free daily lunch. They are not. And they are hardly alone: India’s eight poorest states have more people in poverty – an estimated 421 million – than Africa’s 26 poorest nations, one study recently reported. For the governing Indian National Congress Party, which has staked its political fortunes on appealing to the poor, this persistent inability to make government work for people like Mr. Bhuria has set off an ideological debate over a question that once would have been unthinkable in India: Should the country begin to unshackle the poor from the inefficient, decades-old government food distribution system and try something radical, like simply giving out food coupons, or cash?..”

Multidimensional Poverty Index

  • New poverty index finds Indian states worse than Africa, July 13, 2010, Hindustan Times: “More people are mired in poverty in eight Indian states than in the 26 poorest African countries, according to a new UN-backed measure of poverty. The Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) looks beyond income at a wider range of household-level deprivation, including services, which could then be used to help target development resources. Its findings throw up stark istics compared to regular poverty measures. The study found that half of the world’s MPI poor people live in South Asia, and just over a quarter in Africa. There are 421 million MPI poor people in eight Indian states alone — Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal — and 410 million in the 26 poorest African countries combined. The researchers said that the extent of poverty in India had often been overlooked, by figures comparing percentages of poor people in countries as a whole rather than sheer numbers…”
  • ‘Acute poverty in eight Indian states’, July 12, 2010, The Hindu: “Acute poverty prevails in eight Indian states, including Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, together accounting for more poor people than in the 26 poorest African nations combined, a new ‘multidimensional’ measure of global poverty has said. The new measure, called the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), was developed and applied by the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative with UNDP support. It will be featured in the forthcoming 20th anniversary edition of the UNDP Human Development Report. An analysis by MPI creators reveals that there are more ‘MPI poor’ people in eight Indian states (421 million in Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and West Bengal) than in the 26 poorest African countries combined (410 million). The new poverty measure gives a multidimensional picture of people living in poverty, and is expected to help target development resources more effectively, its creators said…”

Right to Information Law – India

Right-to-know law gives India’s poor a lever, By Lydia Polgreen, June 28, 2010, New York Times: “Chanchala Devi always wanted a house. Not a mud-and-stick hut, like her current home in this desolate village in the mineral-rich, corruption-corroded state of Jharkhand, but a proper brick-and-mortar house. When she heard that a government program for the poor would give her about $700 to build that house, she applied immediately. As an impoverished day laborer from a downtrodden caste, she was an ideal candidate for the grant. Yet she waited four years, watching as wealthier neighbors got grants and built sturdy houses, while she and her three children slept beneath a leaky roof of tree branches and crumbling clay tiles. Two months ago she took advantage of India’s powerful and wildly popular Right to Information law. With help from a local activist, she filed a request at a local government office to find out who had gotten the grants while she waited, and why. Within days a local bureaucrat had good news: Her grant had been approved, and she would soon get her check…”

Cell Phones and Access to Financial Services – India

Cellphones a tool in India’s fight against corruption, By Rick Westhead, May 24, 2010, Toronto Star: “In many remote corners of the developing world, cellphones have become a valuable tool to battle poverty. Farmers use them to get timely weather forecasts and tips about fertilizers. And when their fields are harvested, they rely on contacts in nearby markets to send SMS messages that help them decide where to take their produce for the best prices, cutting out greedy middlemen. Now, government officials in the central Indian state of Bihar hope the cellphone can tackle a new challenge: battling government corruption. In early 2009, officials with Bihar’s ministry of health told an international development agency of their concern that frontline health-care workers might bolt their jobs. Bihar has 72,000 accredited social health activists – volunteers who are paid commissions for ensuring children are born in hospitals and properly vaccinated. But the activists typically aren’t paid for months and, even then, only get a portion of their earnings because local managers demand kickbacks of as much as 40 per cent in exchange for their paycheques…”

Maternal Mortality – India

India, despite poor health care, sees drop in maternal mortality, By Mian Ridge, May 11, 2010, Christian Science Monitor: “It is rare good news for poor women in India. A new report has found a significant drop in the rate at which women across the world die as a result of childbirth – with one of the most dramatic falls in India. Maternal deaths in India decreased from 677 per 100,000 live births in 1980 to 254 in 2008, according to a study published in the Lancet, a leading British medical journal, in April. This contributed to a global fall of 35 percent to 251 per 100,000 live births, found a research team led by Christopher Murray at the University of Washington…”