Deepening inequalities in income between the richer and poorer families, greater relative income poverty in recent years compared with earlier, a greater burden borne by children and young people than before because of their being relatively poor – these are some of the stark conclusions contained in the OECD briefing, ‘New Results from the OECD Income Distribution Database’.
This is the picture of Europe today (and of the non-European members of the OECD). “Looking at the 17 OECD countries for which data are available over a long time period, market income inequality increased by more over the last three years than what was observed in the previous 12 years,” observed the new briefing, which is sub-titled ‘Crisis squeezes income and puts pressure on inequality and poverty’.
The figures and data show that many of the countries recording the most dramatic increases in inequality are European countries which have been subjected to punitive austerity measures by the European Union and International Monetary Fund. The OECD report singles out Spain and Italy, where the income of “the poorest 10 percent was much lower in 2010 than in 2007”.
Five percent falls in income (per year) amongst the poorest 10 percent were also recorded in Greece, Ireland, Estonia, and Iceland. The only non-European nation with a comparable level of income decline was Mexico. The report also stated that over the same period, poor families in the United States, Italy, France, Austria and Sweden all recorded income losses in excess of the OECD average.
Indeed the ‘New Results’ briefing has showed that across OECD countries, real household disposable income stagnated. Likewise, the average income of the top 10% in 2010 was similar to that in 2007. Meanwhile, the income of the bottom 10% in 2010 was lower than that in 2007 by 2% per year. Out of the 33 countries where data are available, the top 10% has done better than the poorest 10% in 21 countries.
This is the OECD picture till 2010. Since then, recession has been the companion of inequality. With an average growth of -0.2 per cent in the first quarter (against -0.1 per cent in the EU as a whole) and hardly better prospects for the whole rest of the year (-0.7 per cent), according to Eurostat, the dreaded “double dip” has become a reality. The press attributes the result largely to the austerity policies.
“Eurozone sets bleak record of longest term in recession,” reported the Financial Times. The daily noted that “this latest dismal record came after unemployment hit 12.1 per cent in the bloc, its highest level,” and that this data “is likely to add to pressure on the European Central Bank to take further action after cutting interest rates this month, and to revise down its economic forecast predicting a recovery later in the year.”
Moreover, relative income poverty – the share of people having less income than half the national median income – affects around 11% of the population on average across OECD countries. Poverty rates range between 6% of the population in Denmark and the Czech Republic to between 18% and 21% in Chile, Turkey, Mexico and Israel. Over the two decades up to 2007, relative income poverty increased in most OECD countries, particularly in countries that had low levels of income poverty in the mid-1990s.
In Sweden, Finland, Luxembourg and the Czech Republic, the income poverty rate increased by 2 percentage points or more. In Sweden, the poverty rate in 2010 (9%) was more than twice what it was in 1995 (4%). Relative poverty also increased in some countries, such as Australia, Japan, Turkey and Israel, with middle and high levels of poverty.
The OECD briefing has stated bluntly: “Households with children were hit hard during the crisis. Since 2007, child poverty increased in 16 OECD countries, with increases exceeding 2 points in Turkey, Spain, Belgium, Slovenia and Hungary.” The ‘New Results’ briefing added: “Since 2007, youth poverty increased considerably in 19 OECD countries. In Estonia, Spain and Turkey, an additional 5% of young adults fell into poverty between 2007 and 2010. In the United Kingdom and Ireland, the increase was 4%, and in the Netherlands 3%.”
Between 2007 and 2010, average relative income poverty in the OECD countries rose from 12.8 to 13.4% among children and from 12.2 to 13.8% among youth. Meanwhile, relative income poverty fell from 15.1 to 12.5% among the elderly. This pattern confirms the trends described in previous OECD studies, with youth and children replacing the elderly as the group at greater risk of income poverty across the OECD countries.
These results only tell the beginning of the story about the consequences of austerity, growing unemployment, the burden on children and youth, and burden on immigrant wage labour. The OECD data describes the evolution of income inequality and relative poverty up to 2010. But “the economic recovery has been anaemic in a number of OECD countries and some have recently moved back into recession”, said the briefing.
Worse, since 2010, many people exhausted their rights to unemployment benefits. In such a situation, the briefing has warned, “the ability of the tax-benefit system to alleviate the high (and potentially increasing) levels of inequality and poverty of income from work and capital might be challenged”. These are unusually blunt words from the OECD and their use reflects the depth and persistence of the crisis of modern, reckless, destructive capitalism in Europe.
Powerful and searing, this statement from a people pushed to the brink by their own state, Brazil, and who have begun an indefinite protest at the main construction site of the Belo Monte Dam, which is in the Xingu and Tapajós river basins:
“We are the people who live in the rivers where you want to build dams. We are the Munduruku, Juruna, Kayapó, Xipaya, Kuruaya, Asurini, Parakanã, Arara, fishermen and peoples who live in riverine communities. We are Amazonian peoples and we want the forest to stand. We are Brazilians. The river and the forest are our supermarket. Our ancestors are older than Jesus Christ.
“You are pointing guns at our heads. You raid our territories with war trucks and soldiers. You have made the fish disappear and you are robbing the bones of our ancestors who are buried on our lands.
“You do this because you are afraid to listen to us. You are afraid to hear that we don’t want dams on our rivers, and afraid to understand why we don’t want them.
“You invent stories that we are violent and that we want war. Who are the ones killing our relatives? How many white people have died in comparison to how many Indigenous people have died? You are the ones killing us, quickly or slowly. We’re dying and with each dam that is built, more of us will die. When we try to talk with you, you bring tanks, helicopters, soldiers, machine guns and stun weapons.
“What we want is simple: You need to uphold the law and promote enacting legislation on free, prior and informed consent for indigenous peoples. Until that happens you need to stop all construction, studies, and police operations in the Xingu, Tapajós and Teles Pires rivers. And then you need to consult us.
“We want dialogue, but you are not letting us speak. This is why we are occupying your dam-building site. You need to stop everything and simply listen to us.
Foreign direct investment (FDI) has been rolling into India at a steady pace, whether in banking and finance,whether in insurance (general insurance and health), pharmaceuticals, automobiles (particularly automobiles), information technology, food and beverages (very much so), and engineering and manufacturing. And then there is retail, which has so incensed all those who have firmly believed that India and Bharat need none of this and that the swadeshi and swarajya of the Independence movement are, 66 years on, needed even more than they were in the 1920s and 1930s. And I count myself amongst those so incensed.
It comes as a surprise then to read about the ‘brake on the economy’ that low-level corruption is in India, as a recent Reuters report has put it. The report is well done, and is right to probe the methods of corrupt underlings, but I find it bordering on the absurd that these practices – in short, hand over the moolah for the licence you want – are treated as hindering India’s ‘growth story’ (as the country’s finance minister monotonously calls it, ignoring the ecological idiocy of desiring more growth, unmindful of the millions of new deprivations his story has no place for).
Reuters has reported: “India is the next great frontier for global retailers, a US$500 billion market growing at 20% a year. For now, small shops dominate the sector. Giants from Wal-Mart Stores Inc to IKEA AB have struggled merely for the right to enter, which they finally won last year.”
This breathlessness, well captured by Reuters, is part of P Chidambaram’s favourite fairy tale. But of course, real life in curbside India is full of smoke and mirrors. Reuters said that a “daunting array of permits – more than 40 are required for a typical supermarket selling a range of products – force retailers to pay so-called ‘speed money’ through middlemen or local partners to set up shop”.
Speed money is a colourful term, and suited to the technicolour life and times of the retail business in India. Reuters sounds prudish when it reported, citing interviews with middlemen and several retailers, that the “official cost for key licenses is typically accompanied by significant expenses in the form of bribes”. The added cost, said Reuters, erodes profitability in an industry where margins tend to be razor-thin, and “creates risk for companies by making them complicit in activity that, while commonplace in India and other emerging markets, is nonetheless illegal”.
Commonplace and illegal as much as underpaying workers in the USA, I presume, which is what the retail capitalists do. See this report about workers at McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Yum! Brands, Burger King, Domino’s Pizza and Papa John’s going on strike in New York City demanding wages that are twice the current $7.50 an hour, which is described as impossible to live on. As for Walmart, it’s rankly exploitative imprisoning of its workers, paying them just above minimum wage but denying them freedom of association (the USA is a member state of the ILO, the International Labour Organisation) and medieval working conditions can hardly, in any country, make it a paragon or corporate virtue.
But the Reuters report, useful as it is in explaining the very broad-based and low-level graft that layers our cities like a fog, cannot venture into the area of the demands of international finance capital led neo-liberalisation. This seeks to prise open our economy – aided eagerly by the astoundingly greedy political class in India (Delhi, Bombay, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Calcutta and every other large city) – for profit maximisation. Never mind the few bleating complaints about streetfront corruption repeated by Reuters, there is optimism aplenty amongst financiers, business people, bankers, commodity brokers, the realty sector, the automobile and FMCG sectors, all fed by the fact that the United Progressive Alliance government of India is more than willing to bend, break and jettison wholesale regulations that favour the proletariat in order to satisfy international capital and Indian big business.
Only last December (2012) both the houses of Parliament in India were told that there would be an inquiry following media reports concerning the submission made by the global retail giant Walmart to the US senate that it had spent around Rs 125 crore (Rs 1.25 billion or about US$23.2 million) during the last four years on its lobbying activities, including the issues related to “enhance market access for investment in India”. Now, really, what’s a bit of ‘speed money’ compared to a sum like that? Or compared to the US$100 million (about Rs 455 crore) that Walmart is reported to have funnelled into India (to its Indian partner Bharti Enterprises) and at a time when multi-brand retail was not permitted?
The Census of India has released the first batch of the primary census abstract. This is the heart of the gigantic matrix of numbers that describes India’s population (to be correct technically, India’s population as it was in 2011 March). The PCA, as it is fondly known amongst the tribe that speak its arcane language, is the final and corrected set of numbers of the populations of India’s states, districts, blocks and villages – this corrects, if such correction was required, the data used in the Census 2011 releases between 2011 and now, which were officially called provisional results.
This release of the PCA is detailed down to district level, and that means the block- and village-level releases are to follow. This gives us the rural and urban populations, the number of children between 0 and 6 years old and what gender they are, and it gives us the number of workers and dependents. Within workers, the PCA tells us who the ‘main’ and ‘marginal’ workers are (a distinction based on how much of the year they are employed). What is of great importance to our study of food and agriculture is that the data tell us how many cultivators and how many agricultural labourers there are.
Well then, without further ado, here is where you’ll find this new forest of numbers. First, there is a very good overview provided by the Office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India (that’s the official title of the organisation that carries out the world’s largest census operation, yes yes, there is one larger enumeration but this is the most detailed census in the world) and you can download it here (a big ppt of about 9MB). Then there is the page on which the PCAs of the states and union territories can be found, which is here.
If you’ve hurried over to that last page you will have found that the xls files that correspond to each state and union territory are coded. That is the state code, and in my work I have found it far more useful to have a set of xls files that are named with both the state (or UT) 2 or 3 character forms and their Census codes. So, here they are, in alphabetical order:
Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chandigarh, Chhattisgarh, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Daman and Diu, Delhi, Goa, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Lakshadweep, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Odisha, Puducherry, Punjab, Rajasthan, Sikkim, Tamil Nadu, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, West Bengal. There, that’s all 35 – do let me know if any of these links are empty or pointing to the wrong file.
The bad news first. The Guardian has reported that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has reached 399.72 parts per million (ppm) and is likely to pass the symbolically important 400 ppm level for the first time in the next few days. Every additional single ppm is that much closer to the many tipping points earth scientists and climatologists have warned governments and policymakers about.
There are three strands of information tied together here. One of these helps us understand what 400 ppm is, relative to a history that we can measure. Another shows us why, despite repeated warnings about the rise of CO2 in the atmosphere and evidence piled upon new evidence with every passing year, policymakers and the consuming public have simply not reacted. And then there is the ppm counter itself, remorseless in its upward march.
The paper, ‘Continental-scale temperature variability during the past two millennia’ (in Nature Geoscience (Vol 6, May 2013)), analysed a number of records (called ‘proxy records’, which indicate temperature change. The researchers found that “of the 323 individual proxy records that extend to ad 1500, more sites seem warmest during 1971-2000 than during any other 30-year period, both in terms of the total number of sites and their proportion in each region”. Moreover, “of the 52 individual records that extend to ad 500, more sites (and a higher proportion) seem warmest during the twentieth century than during any other century”.
Next, the human response. The European Commission’s Joint Research Centre has released an excellent publication which is a collection of interviews concerning climate, but also what humans have done to climate (and is also about science). The book, ‘Air & Climate: Conversations About Molecules And Planets, With Humans In Between’, contains an interview (there are several) with Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, the founder and Director of the immensely influential Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. Schellnhuber has been a member of the German Advisory Council on Global Change since its inception in 1992, and its chairman since 2008.
Schellnhuber in the interview has talked about a moral and a time issue involved, with creating “tremendous inertia in the behaviour of people and the making of politics”. He has said:
“The moral issue goes as follows: if you brought your child to the school bus, and the driver said there was a 50% chance of an accident because something was wrong with the engine, nothing on Earth would make you put your child onto that bus. Climate change undoubtedly creates, with more than 50% probability, the risk of destroying the life of some child in some region that is heavily hit by anthropogenic warming at the other side of the planet – the life of a child who is not even born yet and who you will never get to know. Acting to save that anonymous life is a really tough test for our moral standards, even if you believe every word of what science says about climate disruption.”
“Even when your own survival is at stake it seems far too inconvenient to change your habits now and to reap the benefits later. So it is not that people are wicked or dumb or not perceptive of scientific insights, there is simply this inertia related to the demi-god ‘convenience’.”
How powerful can the satisfaction of the ‘convenience’ idea be to modern humans? Is it possible that the satisfaction of this idea overrides personal, community, species and ecosystem survival? Although I agree with Schellnhuber’s comment, especially given the speed at which industrial agriculture and food systems are overrunning our landscape, it seems almost inconceivable that the motor of convenience insulates consuming humans from all evidence, even evidence as weighty as the Nature Geosciences paper.
This has said, as clearly as possible, that (1) the best estimate of past temperature from seven continent-sized regions indicates that 1971–2000 was warmer than any other time in nearly 1,400 years, (2) the global warming that has occurred since the end of the nineteenth century reversed a persistent long-term global cooling trend, and (3) the increase in average temperature between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries exceeded the temperature difference between all other consecutive centuries in each region, except Antarctica and South America.
And finally, the deadly ppm counter. Readings at the US government’s Earth Systems Research laboratory in Hawaii, are not expected to reach their 2013 peak until mid-May this year, but were recorded at a daily average of 399.72 ppm on 25 April – that is, last week. CO2 atmospheric levels have been steadily rising for 200 years, registering around 280 ppm at the start of the industrial revolution and 316 ppm in 1958 when the Mauna Loa observatory started measurements. “The increase in the global burning of fossil fuels is the primary cause of the increase,” said the Guardian article. Profiting from convenience as a way towards extinction?
In just under six weeks from today, the water available per head in India from our major reservoirs will drop under the 100 litres per day mark. This will happen on or around 06 June 2013, give or take a day.
For India’s 59 cities with populations of over a million (this will be so in mid-2013, see ‘India in 2015 – 63 million-plus cities’) this will mean an ever more frantic and dangerous race to secure water stocks by urban water mafia, who plunder public water storage and groundwater aquifers alike.
In the largest of these cities, their water boards claim to supply between 160 and 200 litres per capita per day (lpcd). This amount is roughly in line with what residents in comparably large East and South-East Asian cities are supplied, and is well above the lower end (100 lpcd) offered by the World Health Organisation as the minimum ‘optimal’ daily water stock required by an individual to maintain health and hygiene (100-200 lpcd is the band).
That’s the WHO view, but even in the Tenth Five Year Plan (2002-07) it was recommended that in India’s largest metropolitan cities the minimum must be 150 lpcd and in large non-metro cities the minimum must be 135 lpcd.
But six weeks from now, judging by the rate at which water has been used in 2013 from the 84 major reservoirs, we are not going to have, per head per day, even 100 litres of water. (Also see ‘Big dams, scarce water, thirsty India, uncertain monsoon’.)
How did we get here, so quickly and so dry? On 14 February 2013, the total water stored in the 84 major reservoirs was 68.718 billion cubic metres (bcm). Over the next ten weeks, until 25 April 2013, that total has dropped steeply to 42.304 bcm.
The Central Water Commission monitors the levels of and volumes in these 84 reservoirs, which if they all were full would store 154.421 bcm. These 84 reservoirs, says the CWC, represent 61% of the country’s water stored in reservoirs, which is altogether 253.388 bcm.
Judging by the same rate of water drawal from these 84 reservoirs, we have used over 43 bcm from all reservoirs in ten weeks, depleting our reservoir stock from 112.6 bcm to 69.3 bcm. This also means that in early February 2013, each of us were (notionally) holding a water stock of about 247 litres per day, a stock that was shrinking at a rate of about 1.3 litres per day to reach 152 litres per day in late April. And remember this is notional water stock per head from reservoirs, water that is used for agriculture and industry too.
What will happen between now and 06 June, when that individual stock drops under 100 lpcd? The Indian Meteorological Department has claimed (the usual bland and bored claim, as if monsoon was just another filing cabinet) that we will have a normal monsoon. As usual, the IMD has made no effort to link water with our alarming depletion of litres per head per day (it does link monsoon with GDP though, typically correct politically, typically unconcerned about human, animal and ecosystem need).
And what if the monsoon is late, scanty or erratic, as has happened with every monsoon since 2009? The IMD doesn’t know, your city’s PWD and municipality don’t know. But the water mafia do, and they’re getting very busy.
(1) The International Instititute for Environment and Development (IIED) says that current policy narratives limit climate resilience in world’s dry regions: “Partial narratives that underpin policymaking prevent people in arid regions from fulfilling their potential to provide food and sustain resilient livelihoods in a changing climate.” IIED has country-specific papers on the following topics: rainfed agriculture for an inclusive, sustainable and food secure India; pastoralism as the custodian of China’s grasslands; moving beyond the rhetoric and the challenge of reform in Kenya’s drylands. (Thanks to the Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog for this.)
(2) International Rivers says that on 28 February 2013 the Chinese government released its ‘Guidelines for Environmental Protection in Foreign Investment and Cooperation’ which was based on recommendations by the Chinese NGO Global Environmental Institute. These Guidelines provide civil society groups with a new source of leverage when it comes to holding Chinese companies responsible for their environmental and social impacts overseas. These (non-binding) guidelines cover key issues, including legal compliance, environmental policies, environmental management plans, mitigation measures, disaster management plans, community relations, waste management, and international standards.
(3) Permaculture programmes are more multifunctional than typical agricultural development programmes, according to this comment in the Guardian, which is important given the growing call for ‘triple-win solutions’ (more management gobbledygook) for agriculture, health, and environmental sustainability. Some examples are given. Partners in Health ran a model permaculture farmer programme in Malawi which helped HIV/Aids patients get the additional caloric and micronutrient intake that they need. In Malawi and South Africa, permaculture is used “as a sustainable, non-donor dependent tool for improving the health, food and nutrition security, and livelihoods,” of orphans and vulnerable children, according to a recent USAid report. In Indonesia, Oxfam funded a permaculture school that taught ex-combatants and tsunami survivors how to improve their food security and livelihoods, while protecting the environment.
(4) A review article in the Agronomy for Sustainable Development journal concludes that GM crops will not only not feed the world, they are hampering efforts to sustainably feed the world by jeopardising existing biological and genetic diversity. The authors argue that agrobiodiversity should be a central element in sustainable agriculture development, and increased access to genetic resources is necessary to increase food production for an expanding world population under the threat of climate change. GM crops on the other hand concentrate ownership of agricultural resources in the hands of corporate interests in developed countries through intellectual property rights instruments. (Thanks to Third World Network for this.)
(5) Drylands in European and North American countries on average generate US$4,290 and US$277 per hectare respectively every year, but this figure jumps to US$6,462 in Asia, US$9,184 in Africa and US$9,764 in Latin America. Around 40 per cent of the world’s total land area consists of dryland ecosystems, the majority of which are in developing nations. The economic value of dryland ecosystems — determined by factors including food and raw material production, ecosystem services and tourism — is far greater in (what are still commonly called) ‘developing countries’, according to a study. This value in Africa and Latin America is more than double that in Europe and more than 30 times that in North America, which should influence how policymakers prioritise dryland conservation, according to the study that was presented at the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification’s (UNCCD) 2nd Scientific Conference this month.
(6) During the FAO Council’s Hundred and Forty-sixth Session (in Rome, 22-26 April 2013) delegates learned that in addition to the US$6.5 million in savings that member countries mandated FAO to identify, the Organization was able to cut costs by an additional $19.3 million. The total savings of $25.8 million, nearly four times what was required, consisted mostly of savings in administrative areas especially at FAO headquarters. Director-General Graziano da Silva said that this process made it possible to advance with the Organization’s decentralisation, which includes the creation of 55 professional posts worldwide while maintaining technical capacity at Headquarters. “As I have argued before, I believe that a strong presence in the field is the way to truly make FAO a knowledge organization with its feet on the ground,” Graziano da Silva said.