- 08 Apr 2022
- 11 min read
This editorial is based on “To Develop Equitably, Address Five Priorities” which was published in Hindustan Times on 07/04/2022. It talks about challenges to equitable development.
The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the inequitable and unsustainable systems in which people across the world live and work, consume and exist. The pandemic, on the other hand, also highlighted that if decision-making is transparent, evidence-based and inclusive, people will support bold and far-reaching policies that protect their health, families and livelihoods.
The world is at a pivotal moment right now; the decisions we make now can either “lock in” development patterns that do permanent and escalating damage to the ecological systems, or they can promote a healthier, fairer, and greener world. The need is to collectively raise our voice and proactively respond to protect our planet, health, and future.
How is Equitable Development being Compromised?
- Poor Air Quality: Globally, over 90% of people breathe unhealthy air, resulting in around seven million deaths every year.
- Globally, two-thirds of exposure to outdoor air pollution results from the burning of the same fossil fuels that are driving climate change, which between 2030 and 2050 is expected to cause an additional 250,000 deaths annually.
- Unsustainable Food Systems: Food systems that are unsafe, unhealthy and unsustainable cause millions of premature deaths annually, primarily from Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs), and are a leading contributor to climate change and antimicrobial resistance – two of the greatest health risks facing humanity.
- Inadequate Water and Sanitation Facilities: In 2020, around one in four people globally lacked safely managed drinking water in their homes, and just 50% of health care facilities in least-developed countries provided basic water services.
- Environmental Concerns: In total, the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that more than 13 million deaths each year are due to avoidable environmental causes – a figure that we cannot and must not accept.
- This includes the climate crisis which is the single biggest health threat facing humanity.
- Poverty and Unemployment: The present design of the economy leads to inequitable distribution of income, wealth and power, with too many people still living in poverty, unemployment and instability.
- According to data from the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), India’s unemployment rate reached as high as 7.9% in December 2021.
How can We Ensure Equitable and Sustainable Development?
- Prioritising Health: Prioritising equitable health now and for future generations – including through long-term investments, well-being budgets, social protection, legal and fiscal strategies – we can build “well-being societies” that facilitate human flourishing, and fulfil every person’s right to health and development, without breaching ecological limits.
- The target should be to achieve a region and world in which clean air, water and food are available to all, where economies promote physical and mental health and well-being, where cities are liveable, and where people have control over their own health and that of the planet.
- Protect and Preserve Nature: Policies that reduce deforestation, promote afforestation, and end intensive and polluting agricultural practices can improve air quality, strengthen food systems, and promote sustainable farming and forest management.
- They reduce the risk of emerging infectious diseases, over 60% of which originate from animals.
- Investments in Essential Services: The countries must continue to protect drinking water supplies by implementing multi-sectoral water safety plans and including WASH in relevant health policies, strategies and programmes, with a focus on increasing access at the primary health care level.
- The countries must continue to build climate-resilient health facilities that not only respond to and withstand environmental health threats, but also promote environmentally sustainable practices.
- Investments in Education: A healthy demand for skilled workers and high-tech jobs will offer great opportunities for India’s growth, but India can only take advantage of this opportunity if Indians have the required knowledge and skills.
- The country has made phenomenal progress in enrolment in basic education but there is work to be done to improve the quality of teaching and ensure students are learning necessary skills.
- Energy Transition: While the countries are making commendable efforts to expand renewable energy sources, increased action is needed, and must be accompanied by rigorous enforcement of air quality standards, as well as increased investments in public transportation infrastructure.
- Promote Healthy and Sustainable Food Systems: Diseases caused by a lack of access to food, or consumption of unhealthy, high calorie diets, are a major contributor to NCDs.
- The WHO and the associated intergovernmental bodies and the countries together shall identify and implement high-impact and cost-effective “best buys” that transform the food environment, from food reformulation and labelling, to increased taxation of unhealthy foods and beverages, and its strengthened restrictions on marketing, especially to children.
- Build Healthy, Liveable Cities: In this regard, the WHO Urban Governance for Health and Well-Being initiative, which aims to strengthen country capacities to promote health and address health inequities, can assist in doing the needful.
- The policymakers can expand cycleways and increase the provision of green and healthy spaces to reduce greenhouse emissions and road traffic injuries, increase physical activity, and promote mental health.
- Bringing Social Change - Gender Equality: Indian women are healthier and better educated than they have ever been before, but because of gender norms, their rate of labour force participation is among the lowest in the world (about 25%), and it is actually dropping.
- Gender inequality is keeping educated, energetic women from building the Indian economy. Reversing this trend by providing them job opportunities, better and safer transportation facilities will not only empower individual women but also unlock huge opportunities for the country.
Drishti Mains Question
“The world is at a pivotal moment right now; we can make decisions that either cause permanent damage to our ecology or promote a healthier, fairer, and greener world. It is us who will have to proactively respond to protect our planet, health, and future”. Comment.