India

Bhopal

I recently watched the documentary "Bhopal: The Search for Justice." From Wikipedia:

The Bhopal Disaster took place in the early hours of the morning of December 3, 1984, in the heart of the city of Bhopal, India, in the state of Madhya Pradesh. A Union Carbide subsidiary pesticide plant released 40 tonnes of methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas, immediately killing nearly 3,000 people and ultimately causing at least 15,000 to 22,000 total deaths. Bhopal is frequently cited as the world's worst industrial disaster. The International Medical Commission on Bhopal was established in 1993 to respond to the disaster.

My employer, Dow Chemical, purchased Union Carbide in 2001 and has been under pressure to do something about Bhopal. From Dow's web page about the issue:

Bhopal was a terrible tragedy that none of us will ever forget. However, it is important to note that Dow never owned or operated the plant, which today is under the control of the Madhya Pradesh state government. Dow acquired the shares of Union Carbide Corporation more than 16 years after the tragedy, and 10 years after the $470 million settlement agreement – paid by Union Carbide Corporation and Union Carbide India, Limited – was approved by the Indian Supreme Court.

Although Dow never owned nor operated the plant, we — along with the rest of industry — have learned from this tragic event, and we have tried to do all we can to assure that similar incidents never happen again.

While Dow has no responsibility for Bhopal, we have never forgotten the tragic event and have helped to drive global industry performance improvements.

I understand Dow's argument: Union Carbide was a part of Dow neither when the tragedy occurred nor when Union Carbide settled with the Indian government. But Union Carbide did become part of Dow, and the settlement Union Carbide made does not seem to have adequately remedied the situation. According to the film, the site has never been cleaned up, so the pollution continues to affect the people living in the area. Though perhaps Dow has no legal responsibility for Bhopal, it seems like is does have a moral responsibility to try to make things right. If you (Union Carbide and now Dow) pay someone (the Indian government) to fix a mess you made (disaster in Bhopal) but the mess isn't cleaned up (due to either inadequate funds or failures of the Indian government), you still have a moral responsibility to clean up the mess.

On India's Farms, a Plague of Suicide

From an article of the same title by Somini Sengupta in the NY Times:

Here in the center of India, on a gray Wednesday morning, a cotton farmer swallowed a bottle of pesticide and fell dead at the threshold of his small mud house.

The farmer, Anil Kondba Shende, 31, left behind a wife and two small sons, debts that his family knew about only vaguely and a soggy, ruined 3.5-acre patch of cotton plants that had been his only source of income.

Whether it was debt, shame or some other privation that drove Mr. Shende to kill himself rests with him alone. But his death was by no means an isolated one, and in it lay an alarming reminder of the crisis facing the Indian farmer.

Across the country in desperate pockets like this one, 17,107 farmers committed suicide in 2003, the most recent year for which government figures are available. Anecdotal reports suggest that the high rates are continuing.

Though the crisis has been building for years, it presents an increasingly thorny political challenge for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. High suicide rates and rural despair helped topple the previous government two years ago and put Mr. Singh in power.

Changes brought on by 15 years of economic reforms have opened Indian farmers to global competition and given them access to expensive and promising biotechnology, but not necessarily opened the way to higher prices, bank loans, irrigation or insurance against pests and rain.

In India, Water Crisis Means Foul Sludge

Water_drop_animation_enhanced_small.gifFrom an article of the same title by Somini Sengupta in the NY Times:

In the richest city in India, with the nation's economy marching ahead at an enviable clip, middle-class people...are reduced to foraging for water. Their predicament testifies to the government's astonishing inability to deliver the most basic services to its citizens at a time when India asserts itself as a global power.

The crisis, decades in the making, has grown as fast as India in recent years. A soaring population, the warp-speed sprawl of cities, and a vast and thirsty farm belt have all put new strains on a feeble, ill-kept public water and sanitation network...

Nationwide, the urban water distribution network is in such disrepair that no city can provide water from the public tap for more than a few hours a day.

An even bigger problem than demand is disposal. New Delhi can neither quench its thirst, nor adequately get rid of the ever bigger heaps of sewage that it produces. Some 45 percent of the population is not connected to the public sewerage system.

Those issues are amplified nationwide. More than 700 million Indians, or roughly two-thirds of the population, do not have adequate sanitation. Largely for lack of clean water, 2.1 million children under the age of 5 die each year, according to the United Nations.

Wombs for Rent, Cheap

From an article of the same title in the LA Times by Henry Chu:

As temp jobs go, Saroj Mehli has landed what she feels is a pretty sweet deal. It's a nine-month gig, no special skills needed, and the only real labor comes at the end — when she gives birth.

If everything goes according to plan, Mehli, 32, will deliver a healthy baby early next year. But rather than join her other three children, the newborn will be handed over to an American couple who are unable to bear a child on their own and are hiring Mehli to do it for them.

She'll be paid about $5,000 for acting as a surrogate mother, a bonanza that would take her more than six years to earn on her salary as a schoolteacher in a village near here.

"I might renovate or add to the house, or spend it on my kids' education or my daughter's wedding," Mehli said.

Beyond the money, she said, there is the reward of bringing happiness to a childless couple in the United States, where such a service would cost them thousands of dollars more, not to mention the potential legal hassles.

Driven by many of the same factors that have led Western businesses to outsource some of their operations to India in recent years, an increasing number of infertile couples from abroad are coming here in search of women such as Mehli who are willing, in effect, to rent out their wombs…

Current figures are tough to pin down, but the Indian Council of Medical Research estimates that helping residents and visitors beget children could bloom into a nearly $6-billion-a-year industry.

How Many Chinese Engineers

Via the Kyivmission blog: here's an interesting article from The Washington Post about a case of fact-check neglect. It had been widely reported in may different sources that 600,000, 350,000 and 70,000 were the numbers of new engineers produced in 2004 in China, India, and the US, respectively...evidence that the US is falling behind in the technology race. It turns out that the realistic numbers are more like 352,000, 112,000, and 137,000. That means, per million residents, the rate of engineer production is higher in the US.

Indian Women Hit Social Walls

From an article of the same title by Khozem Merchant of the Financial Times and printed in the LA Times:

Tahseen Bano's family was reluctant even to let her attend the free information technology classes designed to improve the career opportunities of women in Kanpur, India's leather-goods capital. So it is no surprise that her parents have now blocked progression to a job in the poor northern city.

It seems technology may have met its match here: Social conservatism is denying women the chance to put their newly acquired computer literacy to use.

Bano's frustration is shared by Datamation, a Delhi-based nonprofit group that runs the Kanpur project with funds from Microsoft Corp.

"We try to empower women with skills to improve their chance of getting jobs. But conservatism is not a battle fought overnight. We are encountering the limitations of technology," said coordinator Ujjwala Subhedar...

With funding of $100,000 from Microsoft, Datamation turned to Kanpur's best-known asset, the Indian Institute of Technology. What emerged was software for chikan embroidery incorporating a technique allowing users to retrieve designs from a database.

The response from potential recruits among young, unemployed adults with little formal education was poor. Datamation's recruiters knocked on hundreds of doors in Kanpur's ancient alleyways but found that parents were loath to let their daughters out in public.

Some relented and saw their daughters take to the technology with ease, and the effect on their self-esteem was profound. But what followed was a let-down. Bano's parents, among many others, banned unmarried daughters from taking on full-time design roles, which involved interacting with buyers, designers, shopkeepers and so on.

India Driving

This video of the traffic pattern at an intersection (purportedly in India) is kinda funny:

India sex selection doctor jailed

Previously I mentioned India's 10 million missing daughters. From a story by the BBC News:

A doctor in India and his assistant have been sentenced to two years in jail for revealing the sex of a female foetus and then agreeing to abort it.

This is the first time medical professionals have been jailed in such a case.

Under Indian laws, ultrasound tests on a pregnant woman to determine the gender of the foetus are illegal.

It has been estimated that 10m female foetuses may have been terminated in India in the past 20 years.

Dr Anil Sabhani and Kartar Singh were caught in a sting operation in the northern state of Haryana.

Government officials sent in three pregnant women as decoy patients to find out if the clinic would carry out abortions based on sex selection.

Audio and video evidence showed the doctor telling one woman that tests had revealed that she was carrying a "female foetus and it would be taken care of".

But convictions are rare due to lax and corrupt officials and the slow judicial system.

10 Million Missing Daughters

According to a study reported in the medical journal The Lancet and summarized in an article on NewScientist.com, approximately 10 million female fetuses may have been selectively aborted following ultrasound results in India during the past twenty years:

Their study of 1.1 million households across India reveals that in 1997, far fewer girls were born to couples if their preceding child or children were also female. "There was about a 30% gap in second females following the birth of any earlier females," Jha told New Scientist.

When the firstborn child was a daughter, the sex ratio for second children among the 134,000 births in 1997 was just 759 girls for every 1000 boys. For a third child, just 719 girls were born per 1000 boys, if both the older children were girls. However, if the eldest children were boys, the sex ratios for the second and third child were about 50-50.

Based "on conservative assumptions" the gap in births equates to about 0.5 million missing female births a year, says the team. Assuming the practice has been common in the two decades since ultrasound became widely available, this adds up to 10 million missing girls...

...in India's patriarchal society, daughters are regarded as a "liability", as she will belong to the family of her future husband...A surprising finding was that the disparity was about twice as large in educated mothers, those with at least an Indian grade 10 education, than in illiterate women. "Most things in health are worse among the poor,"...the preference for boys is likely to have "profound long-term consequences". In China, the cultural preference for boys and restrictions on family size are already having effects. Some reports suggest there are 40 million bachelors unable to find brides.

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