Saturday, 14 January 2017 12:37

Tripper – A Dire Pernicious?

Tripper – A Dire Pernicious?

Its the year 1807 and an Irish man by the name Patrick Watkins drops the anchor of his boat by the shore of an exotic looking island and navigates his tugboat to the beach. When he gets there, he is surrounded by gentle and wonderfully friendly wildlife.



He stays on that island for a further 2 years surviving off the native plants and taking advantage of the welcoming, friendly nature of the tame animals that pass his way, he then goes to mainland Ecuador and tells of his experiences and his enjoyment of these islands and as a result more and more people visit the islands.


The islands were a delicate and remote world built up of intricate ecosystems and habitats where millions of species have had to evolve to survive so far away from other life.


Now, fast forward 204 years to present day where the Galapagos Islands are over run by tourism and scores of mainland settlers which has resulted in many of the large numbers of species being at risk of extinction. In just over 200 years, the human population has grown from 1 person to approximately 20,000 and its ever increasing; such saturation will surely be the downfall of this veritable paradise.

Tourism numbers have soared from just a few thousand visitors in the 1960s to over 60,000 per year in 2010.The main attraction for tourists is the wonderful individuality of the islands; they are a rare volcanic archipelago that was formed around 10 million years ago over the intersection of three tectonic plates, making the islands a hot spot for volcanic activity and therefore a hotspot for tourists.


Another reason for an influx of tourists is due to Charles Darwin, he famously carried out research for The Origin of Species on the islands. There are now Charles Darwin centres around the islands and many visit solely to look at his work and the animals he used to come to his theory. Sarah Darwin, his great granddaughter spoke about the adverse effect of tourism. She stated that The fine tuned ecosystem which supports this amazing wildlife that the visitors come to see, are now being threatened directly or indirectly through tourism.

The native aSea Lion's sunbathing on a fishing boat, they show no fear towards humans.nimals, such as the sea lions and giant tortoises  shown, are so tame they have no fear of humans.


Travellers and pirates took advantage of this by catching the slow moving animals and used them for food and oil. Tortoises made perfect ship food as they could survive up to 2 months without food or water. This exploitation of the animals led to a near extinction and in the past few weeks, the Galapagos said goodbye to the last giant tortoise dubbed Lonely george. I had the pleasure of meeting George, and his very sad demise is a huge loss to the island.


The main problem for the Galapagos islands is the introduction of alien species. Pirates and travellers many years ago not only killed and stole the indiginous wildlife they also brought dogs, goats, rats and other animals to the islands which killed off many flora and fauna.


Although the islands were made a World Heritage Site in 1978, It is estimated that tourists carry at least two new species a day onto the islands and although government regulations meant a huge (controvercial) eradication of goats. Dogs and cats still run wild and stray which lead to many plants and animals still being destroyed.


Volunteers  and conservationalists work hard to extinguish the invasive species and help to repair the delicate environment which has been ruined by mans eploitation. I was fortunate to participate in the cleansing of the island, and spent some time at the Jatun Sacha Foundation earlier this year which is located on San Cristobal Island. The main duties were cutting back the fast growing mora, known to us as the blackberry,  an invasive species which has completely overrun and consumed the native plant life. After cutting back the Mora, we planted endemic species, in an attempt to bring back parity.

Elinor Childs, a lawyer from London who also volunteered at the foundation stated What concerns me is that we spent hours chopping back Mora, to a point, however the roots are virtually impossible to remove, and as a result, will obviously regenerate. The lack of expertise and local education in these matters makes the cleansing a highly laborious and in some ways thankless task. It would be good to get more locals involved, and it would be nice if I felt that a substantial amount of the money each of us paid to various volunteer organizations (GVI, i2i etc) actually went to Jatun Sacha so they could have more full time employees and pay them a decent wage.


Big volunteer organizations whose aims are supposedly to help the Galapagos regain its protected environment, were pocketing most of the money that should have been going to locals to educate about the problems in the Galapagos. For every £1000 given to a group, only about £100 goes to the Galapagos Islands.


Kati Beckfeld, another volunteer specified that the she felt her work was valuable to the islands but her money wasnt used wisely by the organizations, it should go to the islands and people who live there.


Sarah Sturrock, a medical student and another helper at Jatun Sacha said that the money she spent going there could have paid for twice as many locals to cut the Mora for a longer period of time but she wanted to experience the Galapagos for herself and thinks the experience was worth it.


The residents on the islands benefit little from all the volunteers that help, some of the money does go towards educating the locals about conservation and conservation itself but most manages to find its way back to the big companies pockets.


Tourism generates income for the local people there but they dont see a lot of the money as most tourists come on cruise ships and money is spent onboard instead of on the islands.


The goverment have capped the number of visitors to the islands each year to try and help sustain the environment but the local people heavily rely on tourism, without it, they wouldnt be able to live the way they do on the islands, it really is now a catch 22 situation.


Tourism is a problem because the eco-system there is so vulnerable and of course the more people that go there, the  more problems that  arise. Rupert Parry, a fellow volunteer said. He agrees that the number of visitors needed to be capped.


In addition, the number of residents should also be restricted, as more and more local people tell their family on the mainland to come and work for them, this ruins vital ecosystems and creates more waste to get rid of.


Simon Jewetzeluf, who i met when traveling around the islands stated that There are some local people and places that have preserving the nature as a main goal but its a horrible site when you walk through the towns, you might stumble upon a pile of garbage and it makes you think, what am i doing this for?


As David Attenborough once stated tourism is a necessary evil on these islands. Tourists provide the local residents with jobs and some of the money that goes to the government is used towards conservation and managing numbers of foreign species, however, the risks to the island seem too high and visitors should be restricted to one visit a lifetime.



Oldest water in the world found in Ontario by U of T scientists

University of Toronto geoscientists have made a discovery that could lead to a new understanding of ancient life on earth and on other planets: two-billion-year-old water in a mine in Timmins the oldest H2O ever found.


"We thought, 'Wow,'" said Oliver Warr, a post-doctoral researcher at U of T who led the team that made the finding.


"Everything about the water is brand new. We are seeing signals in all isotopes that we've identified so far that we've never seen anywhere else."

The findings stem from the researchers' earlier exploration of water in the same active copper, zinc and silver mine in 2013.


Geochemical analyses of the water at a depth of 2.4 kilometres showed it was a billion years old.

"Since then we've gone even deeper into the mine -- 3 kilometres down. It's even more unique," said Warr by phone from San Francisco, where he and lead researcher Barbara Sherwood Lollar presented their discovery at the American Geophysical Union.


Calculating water's age

Warr said helium, argon, neon, krypton and xenon were found in the water. Those gases accumulate over time in the fluid trapped in rock fractures. Calculating how much of each gas has accumulated in the water helped the researchers figure out its age.

"If water has been down there for up to two billion years, it can tell us something about the atmosphere at the time, or the state of the earth, which previously we've not been able to get much insight into," Warr said..


Exotic chemical cocktail

The water is up to eight times more salty than seawater and likely has some trace metals in it,  he said.


"It won't kill you if you drank it, but it would taste absolutely disgusting,"


Although the ancient fluid isn't tasty, it may hold life.


"That could have great ramifications as to how life might exist at these kinds of depths, how it might survive," Warr said.



"It could start paving the way for understanding life on other planets as well."

Saturday, 15 October 2016 11:18


Konark Sun Temple

Konark is one of the well known tourist attractions of Orissa. Konark, Konark houses a colossal temple dedicated to the Sun God. Even in its ruined state it is a magnificient temple reflecting the genius of the architects that envisioned and  built it. Bhubaneshwar, Konark and Puri constitute the Golden triangle of Orissa, visited in large numbers by pilgrims and tourists.

Konark is also known as Konaditya. The name Konark is derived form the words Kona - Corner and Arka - Sun; it is situated on the north eastern corner of Puri or the Chakrakshetra. Konark is also known as Arkakshetra.


This temple built in 1278 CE by the Ganga  King Narasimha Deva  is one of the grandest temples of India and was referred to as the Black Pagoda. The ruins of this temple were excavated in late 19th century. The tower over the Garbagriha is missing, however the Jagmohana is intact, and even in this state, it is awe inspiring.


Legend has it that Samba, the king of Krishna and Jambavati entered the bathing chamber of Krishna's wifes, and was cursed by Krishna with leprosy. It was decreed that he would be relieved of the curse by worshipping the sun God on the sea coast north east of Puri. Accordingly Samba reached Konaditya Kshetra and discovered an image of Surya seated on the lotus, worshipped him and was relieved of his curse.


It is said that the temple was not completed as conceived because the foundation was not strong enough to bear the weight of the heavy dome. Local beleif has it that it was constructed in entirety, however its magnetic dome caused ships to crash near the seashore, and that the dome was removed and destroyed and that the image of the Sun God was taken to Puri.


The Temple: The Konark temple is widely known not only for its architectural grandeur but also for the intricacy and profusion of sculptural work. The entire temple has been conceived as a chariot of the sun god with 24 wheels, each about 10 feet in diameter, with a set of spokes and elaborate carvings. Seven horses drag the temple. Two lions guard the entrance, crushing elephants. A flight of steps lead to the main entrance.


The nata mandir in front of the Jagamohana is also intricately carved.  Around the base of the temple, and up the walls and roof, are carvings in the erotic style.  There are images of animals, foliage, men, warriors on horses and other interesting patterns. There are three images of the Sun God, positioned to catch the rays of the sun at dawn, noon and sunset.



The Melakkadambur Shiva temple, built in the form of a chariot during  the age of Kulottunga Chola I (1075-1120),  is the earliest of this kind, and is still in a well preserved state.  It is believed that this temple set the pace for the ratha (chariot) vimana temples in India, as a distant descendant of Kulottunga I on the female line, and thefamous Eastern Ganga ruler Narasimha Deva, built the Sun Temple at Konark in the form of a chariot in the 13th century. Kulottunga Chola is also credited with having built the Suryanaar temple near Kumbhakonam. Temples dedicated to the Sun are not a common feature in the Tamil speaking region of the Indian subcontinent.

Thursday, 01 September 2016 13:21

Indian Ocean tsunami: Then and now

Indian Ocean tsunami: Then and now


It took nearly three hours for the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the deadliest natural disaster in human history, to travel from its epicenter near Sumatra, Indonesia, to the eastern coasts of India and Sri Lanka. By then, it had already devastated Phuket, Thailand; Banda Aceh, Indonesia; and Indias Andaman and Nicobar Islandsand was making international headlines.


It was 2004, well into the era of the Internet, mass communication, cellphones, and social networking, but for fishermen and villagers in southern India and Sri Lanka, it might as well have been 1904. Though warnings were sent to the Indian coast guard, there were no protocols for getting that lifesaving information to villages far from urban centers.


The tsunami hit with virtually no warning, killing more than 47,000 people in just those two countries. Across the Indian Ocean, the final estimated death toll was more than 220,000, nearly all of whom received absolutely no advance notice.


In the wake of the tragedy came a new drive for a tsunami warning system. Previously, tsunamis were rarely, if ever, seen as a threat in the region; in the Indian Ocean the geologic record shows occurrences have been highly variable, with the intervals between tsunamis ranging from just every few decades to, in this case, around 500 years. (Japan, by contrast, sees tsunamis regularly, and its sophisticated warning system likely saved thousands of lives in 2011.) But the massive death toll changed everything, especially when readers safe in the United States learned about the disaster long before those in the waves path in Sri Lanka.


The push for an effective, transnational, digitally connected warning system began in earnest, but it wouldnt be an easy project. The region includes several of the worlds most populous countries, with hundreds of millions living along the coast, but their people are mostly poor. India, 1 billion strong, has a per capita GDP of only $1,600, while Indonesias GDP, with 240 million inhabitants, is only marginally higher at $3,490. Many high-risk countriesthe Maldives, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka, for examplesimply didnt have the resources to build or maintain their own warning system.


    The massive death toll changed everything.


Moreover, in the immediate aftermath, those countries were focused on reconstruction. Funding for any warning system would have to come from international donors, who had pledged billions in relief aid. Germany led with a 60 million investment (roughly $64 million U.S.), with Japan also playing a key role. Australia, meanwhile, invested in its own warning center that would work with regional infrastructure.


Ive done international work for 30 years now, said Dr. Ray Canterford, deputy director of hazards, warnings, and forecasts at the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, who played a key role in setting up the Australian Tsunami Warning System. After the tragedy, I had never seen the level of international cooperation that occurred. Everyone shared their information, gave freely of their advice, in actually building a system.


The goal: learn from the failures of 2004 in building a robust, integrated warning system for the entire Indian Ocean. After years of work by global scientists, development agencies, and governments, in 2013 the Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning System (IOTWS) became fully operational. It can quickly detect earthquakes, discern whether or not they will produce a tsunami, monitor how ocean waves are propagating, and predict where they might go. This detection and monitoring network then provides information to the regions three tsunami warning centers, run by Australia, Indonesia, and India.


Though the system is now operational, its success wasnt a sure bet. It faced several challenges, chief of which was sustainability and maintenance. Using the same expensive equipment as the Pacific Ocean warning system (which receives reliable funding from the United States and Japan) would put an onerous cost burden on countries that, once international funding dried up, may balk at the price tag.


The initial focus was on using technology that would provide reliable data but at a far lower cost. For example, until the early 2000s, ocean buoys were by far the best technology for detecting the often minute deep-sea pressure changes signaling a tsunami. Theyre also incredibly difficult to maintain. They are expensive, highly susceptible to vandalism in crowded waters, and require regular maintenance and technical expertise to operate. So they were replaced with a GPS shield using freely available satellite data and computer models able to detect sea level variations from space, with only tiny loss of time and accuracy as compared to buoys. Data from the shield is analyzed using sophisticated computer models at warning centers.


We have made quantum leaps in technology, in the running of computer models to measure the tsunamis going across the ocean, and in the ability to share data, Canterford said. A comprehensive, open information-sharing network was a necessity for the project, as it meant providing important data to smaller, poorer countries (such as the Maldives or Sri Lanka) that previously would have only been available to, for example, Australia, which already has a sophisticated warning system.


Data from these networks are available in near real time to the three regional JTWCs and [from there] to the National Tsunami Warning Centres of the 28 member states of the IOTWS, said Tony Elliott, head of secretariat for the coordination group.


    We have made quantum leaps in technology, in the running of computer models to measure the tsunamis going across the ocean, and in the ability to share data.


Also key was setting up effective communication protocols. A warning sent from Australia to India, thousands of miles away, would be useless if it then didnt reach the actual people who needed to evacuate. The Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission supported the development of technical, educational, and communication plans that are scientifically based and culturally adapted for each of the 28 member countries. This meant providing tsunami education, conducting evacuation drills in high-risk zones, and ensuring that communications systemswhether police radio, cellphones, or broadcast televisionare properly set up to receive and send warnings.


Information sharing is baked into the structure of the sector network, said Andrew Schroeder, director of research and analysis at Direct Relief. It is processed at the [JTWCs], and then that information goes out to everyone in the network.


Today the system can, in most countries, automatically text warnings to phones in affected areas, alongside simultaneous television and radio warnings. Once we receive the seismic information, within approximately 20 minutes, we can transit information across the Indian Ocean about tsunamis that may impact countries, Canterford said. He and others hope that number will go down as the system becomes more dense, models become more accurate, and communication coordination improves.


Its a great improvement over the state of affairs in 2004, when even a warning coming 20 minutes after the tsunami was detected would have given Sri Lankans and Indians more than two hours to flee. If such a system had existed then, the death toll in these two countries would have been far, far less. Perhaps, with functioning local infrastructure and a well-prepared populace, it could have been zero.


That would be a perfect outcome, of course. But any system will be imperfect, which makes it harder to judge effectiveness. Defining success is very hard, says Dr. Jörn Lauterjung, head of scientific infrastructure at GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, who led the German governments involvement in the IOTWS. Even if, in 2004, 75 percent of the lives had been saved, that still would have meant a death toll over 50,000. And there are facts that simply cannot be overcome. In 2004, for example, a warning could have provided ample time for evacuations in India and Sri Lanka, but in parts of Indonesia near the earthquake epicenter, people would have had barely more than a few minutes warning even in the best-case scenario.


The only thing is seeing how the system performs over time, said Lauterjung. We saw the physical limitations of the system in 2010 when we still had 400-plus victims. That was when a magnitude 7.7 earthquake off the north coast of Sumatra triggered a deadly tsunami. The system worked as expected, but the quake struck only five to 10 minutes before the accompanying tsunami. Indonesias central warning center sent out alerts within five minutes, but with so little time, the warnings couldnt reach the most remote islands. Still, without the IOWTS, the death toll would likely have been much worse.


There was an instructive difference between then and 2004, Schroeder said. There was an information flow happening, and people did use it to get out of the way.


New technology alone is not a complete solution. The warning system has to work with existing infrastructure and, in the end, human preparedness. Making sure that there is a localized infrastructure, with plans, that is ready to go is key to being able to respond to a disaster, said Schroeder, pointing to Mexico, where locally run evacuations were a key reason that Hurricane Patricia did not result in high death tolls. Ultimately, IOTWS can help to determine tsunami risk and the information can be spread far and wide, but without a strong local response infrastructure, all the warnings in the world wont matter.


Today, though, the countries on the Indian Ocean susceptible to tsunamis are one big step closer to saving lives. When the next wave comesand it willtheyll be ready.


Scars of Bangladesh independence war 40 years on

I was born in the middle of a cold winter night in December 1971 in Sindh, Pakistan. There was a blackout and bombs were falling.

Pakistan was losing a war and it was also losing its eastern half, separated from the rest of the country by more than 1,600km (990 miles) of India.

After nine months of internal strife and a military crackdown against Bangladeshi separatists, the full-scale war with India was swift and decisive. It lasted just 13 days.

The defeat of the Pakistani army on 16 December 1971 was a triumph for India and the Bengali insurgents it had assisted.

For Pakistan, it was perhaps the darkest moment in its history and the ultimate humiliation. The army stood accused of mass murder, torture and rape. Tens of thousands of Pakistani soldiers were taken prisoners of war.

Forty years on, I decided to examine the legacy of this brief but bitter war.


Growing up in Pakistan, we did not talk much about the war at home. In school, we seemed to rush through that period of our history.

On a recent visit to my old school in Karachi, I picked up an officially approved history book.

The book recognises that East Pakistanis felt culturally subjugated and economically exploited by their dominant Western half.

But it suggests the causes for separation include India, Hindu propaganda and international conspiracies.

At my old school I asked a group of teenage students if they had heard of the Bangladeshi accusations of genocide or widespread rape by the Pakistani army.

"That's wrong, that's propaganda!" several said.

"The Pakistani army is a professional army. They are Muslims. They couldn't have done that to their brothers and sisters over there."

'Foolish operation'

But if Pakistan has tried to treat the events of 1971 as a closed chapter, in Bangladesh, the wounds of the war are very fresh.

On my first ever visit to Dhaka, it was immediately clear that the Bangladeshi narrative of 1971 remains firmly focused on the violence unleashed by the Pakistani army.

Many Bangladeshis still feel very bitter about their treatment by West Pakistan, with discriminatory policies over economics and language.

In 1971, the West Pakistan leadership appeared to have made up its mind to answer this resentment with military force.

"It makes me think how foolish the entire operation was, how mad it was and how tragic it was," said Serajul Islam Choudhury, a professor at Dhaka University.

"There's no possibility of bringing down an entire people by the military coming from abroad. The loss we suffered was enormous."

As he stared at the list of names on a memorial honouring the teachers, students and staff of Dhaka University who died in 1971, his emotion is palpable.

"To this day, I feel very sad thinking of my colleagues who were killed during the military operations."

The Bangladeshi government says that three million people were killed during the nine months of conflict. Some say that figure is too high and unverifiable.

And the mainstream Bangladeshi narrative is also accused of omitting alleged atrocities perpetrated by Bengali separatists against communities who were deemed loyal to Pakistan.

Entire villages are reported to have been attacked, homes burnt and families killed.

Aly Zaker was among thousands of Bengalis who took up arms to fight for independence.

"Our target was the Pakistan occupation force and their cohorts, who were created within the confines of Bangladesh with quislings," he says.

He believes that minorities only faced retribution after they had acted as proxies of the Pakistani army and killed Bengalis.

Existential fear

Back then, the Pakistani army was accused of forming militia groups to do its bidding in East Pakistan. Since then, it has been seen to use similar tactics in Afghanistan and Kashmir.

Many warn that the dangerous nexus between the military and jihadi militant groups is now threatening Pakistan from within.

Ikram Seghal, a defence analyst who lectures in Pakistani military colleges, believes the biggest internal challenge to Pakistan today is terrorism.

But like many in the military, he sees India as the principal external threat.

"If you look at the Indian armed forces deployment along the Pakistani border - their forward bases, their armoured divisions, their strike divisions - they can mobilise and go to war with us in 72 hours.

"While for us, short of a nuclear strike, we cannot hold them."

This existential fear of a bigger, hostile India is central to Pakistan's security paradigm. In 1971 this fear was reinforced by the crucial role India played in the break up of Pakistan.

For India, the situation became serious when nearly 10 million Bengali refugees crossed the border into its territory. There was a humanitarian crisis, but also an opportunity to cut Pakistan down to size.

Pakistan's army today

AK Khandker a senior minister in the Bangladeshi government who served as a separatist commander in 1971,  says India started providing weapons and training to the rebels in May of that year, and stepped up the programme after signing a pact with the Soviet Union in August.


According to Mr Khandker, the attacks by Indian-trained separatist fighters were so effective, that by November "the Pakistani army was physically and morally exhausted."

Today he says that without India, the independence of Bangladesh "would have been extremely, extremely difficult".

One might expect that the Pakistani army's failure in 1971 would have diminished its power in the country. But in my lifetime, its influence in shaping and running the country has grown exponentially.

It seems the conclusion the Pakistani army drew from its defeat in 1971 was to grow stronger; to exercise more control over civilian affairs.

Many in Pakistan still regard the army as a saviour, the glue that holds the country together, saving it from corrupt politicians and enemies like India - and increasingly America.

But others feel it was the army's tight grip on power that contributed to the break up of Pakistan in the first place.

They believe that the military has stifled the country's democratic development, undermining its very fabric.

"I'm a soldier and proud of being a soldier. But all the ills of Pakistan are because of the armed forces intervention in the civilian affairs," says Lt Gen Abdul Qadir Baloch.

He retired from the army just a few years ago and is now a member of parliament.

"If the army had not imposed as many martial laws in this country - four so far - we would have had 15 to 20 elections by now and a much better lot of politicians than the sort of pygmies we have got today."




Family planning: A cost effective-development tool

Family planning is the surest and the quickest way to better the physical and economic health of a nation. As the Narendra Modi government rolls out its budget for 2016-17, there is an expectation that the amount earmarked for family planning will be adequate to meet the very urgent needs of a young nation.


After a series of budget cuts faced by the health sector last year, which affected resource availability on the family planning front as well, it has become all the more imperative that this time sufficient provision is made. If not, the cost of inaction in family planning would be compounded for the country. This will translate into not just loss of health and life, but of education opportunities, livelihoods, earnings and the overall well-being of our people.


Family planning is increasingly being recognized as a cost effective development option, one that improves the health of the people and consequently the labour force, boosts the economy and at the same time gives women the opportunity to participate fully as citizens. The recently concluded International Conference on Family Planning saw global interest with participation from 80 countries, keen to learn from each other on how to make it work.


Addressing the Indian caucus at the conference, JP Nadda, minister of health and family welfare, had committed to making available improved quality family planning services and expanding the choice of contraceptives for spacing — a dire need for young couples. The recent decision of the Ministry to introduce injectables in the public health system is a good first step. A lot more needs to be done.

Here are some telling figures: Forty six per cent of eligible couples do not practise family planning. Almost 21% of births every year in the country are unplanned, because the people do not have access to contraceptives. Almost 60% of births (1.6 core births) every year have a birth interval of less than 36 months, the ideal gap that gives a woman time to recoup ensuring better health for herself and the newborn. As many as 6.3% of the births (17 lakh births) are to girls too young to bear children — in the age group of 15-19 years. The consequence of all this is that over 150 women continue to die every day due to pregnancy related causes and many more suffer great morbidity.


The country has been paying a heavy price for the persistent unmet need for family planning. Too early, too quick and too many pregnancies take a toll on women and girls, especially when quality of care is inadequate. Unplanned pregnancies make for a higher infant mortality rate and poor health for both mother and child. Moreover, the reverberation of a maternal death is large, directly impacting the health, education and well-being of her children. The economic health of the country suffers, as a person in the prime of life is lost.


A study commissioned by Population Foundation of India (PFI) has revealed that the cost of unplanned children ranges from 2% of state GDP in Tamil Nadu to 8% in Uttar Pradesh, to 14% of state GDP in Bihar. The costs include that on child birth and rearing as well as the total government expenditure on the unplanned children.


India’s spend on health care was only 1.04% of the GDP in 2013-14, which is about 4% of the total government expenditure. China spends 2.8%, Russia 3.6%, South Africa 4.1% of their GDP. The Finance Commission’s move to increase the state’s share in taxes from 32% to 42% in 2015-16 may have led to states having more funds to spend in the social sector. But states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Odisha and Andhra Pradesh, which need to put a greater focus on health, get only meager amounts, not enough to meet the necessary expenditure on health and family welfare. Moreover, as states have competing priorities in human resources and infrastructure, diversion of funds from the health sector is a reality.


The 2014-15 budgets saw an 87% reduction for family welfare compared to the earlier year. In the 2015-16 budgets, the family welfare share was further reduced by 34%. Given the poor health indicators in the country, these cuts were surprising. Under the National Health Mission (NHM), the share of family planning is as low as 2% of the total NHM budget and 6% of the reproductive and child health (RCH) budget.


The effect of not spending enough on health and family planning in particular can be seen in the high maternal and infant mortality rates India faces, among the worst in the world. It can be seen in poor infrastructure, insufficient access and poor healthcare services. The result — 70% of all out-of-pocket expenditure on health by our people is in the private sector, driving nearly 50 million people into debt and poverty every year.


A PFI study shows that India needs Rs 187.3 billion in the coming four years (almost Rs 47 billion per year) if it has to cover 48 million new users of contraceptives by 2020 (all by the public health system), a commitment made by India at London Summit on Family Planning in 2012. This is Rs 113.8 billion more than what is projected by the government budget allocation.


It is time the government allocates the much needed resources and gives family planning a boost. Family planning is a key investment. Let us use it to our advantage.




Saturday, 13 February 2016 11:24

The Indian granny left thousands teary-eyed

In the youthful world of Indian advertising, Uma Tembulkar, 78, is an unlikely celebrity model. Ms Tembulkar is the lead in the advertisement, British Airways: Fuelled by Love, that has gone viral on YouTube and has Twitter tearing up over her. The six-minute film, uploaded a week ago on YouTube, has had more than one million visitors and made Ms Tembulkar a welcoming face that's beaming from a billboard at the Mumbai airport. "Ms Tembulkar brings on a heavy dose of emotion to the ad; meaningful not melodramatic," says advertising expert Vidhya Sankarnarayan. "It resonates with Indians like the granny who feels dislocated on flights and connects at a human level," she says. An emotional flight Ms Tembulkar said the British Airways ad was easy to enact because it had "two strangers who show kindness and compassion to each other, breaking cultural and generational barriers". A look at the ad would explain why she's spot on. The film shows a septuagenarian returning home from visiting her son in London. She struggles while fastening the seat belt and bending over her arthritic knees to pull on her socks. A young stewardess, Helena Flynn, on her maiden flight to India, comes to her help. The lady wells up, missing her son. The stewardess comforts her and is invited home by the elder woman. A visit to the south Indian home is full of effusive Indian hospitality, good food and a slice of culture and a high dose of warmth. "I wanted the ad to debunk the stereotype of the uptight British person and rude Indian traveller and Ms Tembulkar touched the right chords," says director Neeraj Ghaywan, feted recently at the Cannes film festival. This was the indie filmmaker's first venture into ad filmmaking and he found Ms Tembulkar "just the perfect face of dignity and affection". And the social media response has been effusive praise for the ad. Today, Ms Tembulkar gets grabbed for selfies on her morning market run to buy vegetables and milk. Global granny "It was an honour to act in the British Airways ad and I thoroughly enjoyed travelling to London," she says. Ms Tembulkar has been married for 60 years and led life as a homemaker with an enduring passion in Indian classical music that helped her "overcome fear of performing before an audience or the camera". She now watches over a brood of grandchildren, who are students in Harvard and Carnegie Mellon, travelling frequently to holiday with her scattered family across the globe. "My passport is the fattest," she chuckles with quiet pride. "My life as a model began at 70," she speaks carefully in English, though she is also fluent in her native tongue Marathi, and Hindi, Bengali and a smattering of Gujarati too. The actress in her was discovered by young friends at a family gathering and in the last eight years, she has acted in more than 60 advertisements for products as varied as insurance companies, furniture, cooking oils, biscuits and more. "Look at her: she's the quintessential Indian granny and her predicament while travelling alone is real. That has made the ad work," says Mr Ghaywan. He praises her as a "super granny" who travels alone frequently to visit her children and grandchildren, and understands the "emotional palette with her restrained, yet powerful performance". Ageism Experts concluded that ageism has never been a problem in India and has always helped in selling products. "Like the grandpas from India and Pakistan for the Google ad, age never goes out of style in Indian advertisements," says Ms Sankarnarayan. Unlike an earlier generation, the granny in the British Airways ad travels business class in comfort, though not schooled in global travel; she represents the old setting off alone to connect with scattered families across the world and makes a human connection that makes the ad tick. Many say the ad helps to debunk the stereotype of the rude Indian in-flight traveller. "Ms Tembulkar does a fantastic job of giving the contemporary Indian traveller a face," explains Ms Sankarnarayan. Given the soaring success of the advertisement, the sky is the limit for this granny.