Program for the Future Society
Indian workers Lu by Chittaprosad. — Dissenting voice
IN OCTOBER 2021, the United Nations Development Program published a report that received little attention: the Global Multidimensional Poverty Index 2021, notably subtitled “Unmasking the disparities by ethnicity, caste and gender. “Multidimensional poverty” is a much more accurate measure of poverty than the international poverty line of $1.90 a day. It examines 10 indicators divided into three areas: health (nutrition, infant mortality), education (years of schooling, school attendance) and standard of living (cooking fuel, sanitation, drinking water, electricity, housing, goods, etc.) . The team studied multidimensional poverty in 109 countries, examining the living conditions of 5.9 billion people. They found that 1.3 billion people, or one in five, live in multidimensional poverty. The details of their lives are striking:
— About 644 million or half of these people are children under the age of 18.
— Nearly 85% of them live in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
— A billion of them are exposed to solid fuels for cooking, which creates respiratory ailments, inadequate sanitation and unsanitary housing.
— 568 million people do not have access to adequate drinking water within a 30-minute round trip walk.
— 788 million multidimensionally poor people have at least one undernourished person at home.
— Nearly 66% of them live in households where no one has completed at least six years of schooling.
— 678 million people do not have access to electricity.
— 550 million people lack seven of the eight assets identified in the study: a radio, a television, a telephone, a computer, a cart, a bicycle, a motorcycle or a refrigerator. They don’t own a car either.
The absolute numbers in the UNDP report are consistently lower than numbers calculated by other researchers. Take their number of those without access to electricity – 678 million – for example. World Bank data shows that in 2019, 90% of the world’s population had access to electricity, which means that 1.2 billion people did not. A major study from 2020 shows that 3.5 billion people do not have “reasonably reliable access” to electricity. That’s far more than the absolute numbers in the UNDP report, but whatever the precise numbers, the trend lines are horrendous nonetheless. We live on a planet of growing disparities.
For the first time, UNDP has focused its attention on the more granular aspects of these disparities, shedding light on ethnic, racial and caste hierarchies. Nothing is as miserable as social hierarchies, legacies of the past which continue to seriously undermine human dignity. Looking at data from 41 countries, the UNDP found that multidimensional poverty disproportionately affects those who face social discrimination. In India, for example, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes – “scheduled” because the government considers them to be officially designated groups – face the brunt of terrible poverty and discrimination, which in turn exacerbate their impoverishment. Five out of six people struggling with multidimensional poverty belong to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. A 2010 study showed that every year at least 63 million people in India fall below the poverty line due to unreimbursed healthcare costs, or two people every second. During the Covid pandemic, these numbers have increased, although the exact numbers have not been easy to collect. Either way, the five out of six people who live in multidimensional poverty – many of them from Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes – have no access to health care and are therefore not even included in this data. They largely exist outside of formal health systems, which has been devastating for these communities during the pandemic.
Last year, the secretary general of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America — Peoples’ Trade Treaty, Sacha Llorenti, asked Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research and the Instituto Simón Bolivar in Caracas, Venezuela, to to initiate an international discussion in response to the great crises of our time. We brought together 26 research institutes from around the world whose work has now culminated in a report called “A plan to save the planet”. This plan is reproduced with a longer introduction in file 48 in January 2022.
We looked carefully at two types of material: first, a series of blueprints produced by conservative and liberal think tanks around the world, from the World Economic Forum to the Council for Inclusive Capitalism; second, a set of demands from trade unions, left-wing political parties and social movements. We were inspired by the latter to better understand the limits of the former. For example, we found that both liberal and conservative texts ignored the fact that during the pandemic, central banks – mostly in the global north – had raised $16 trillion to prop up a failing capitalist system. Although there was money available that could have been used for social good, it was instead largely used to shore up the financial sector and industry. If funds can be made available for these purposes, they can certainly be used to fully fund a robust public health system in every country and a fair transition from non-renewable fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, for example.
The plan covers 12 areas, from democracy and global order to the digital world. To give you an idea of the types of claims made in the plan, here are the recommendations in the education section:
— Decommoditize education, which includes strengthening public education and preventing the privatization of education.
— Promote the role of teachers in the management of educational establishments.
— Ensure that disadvantaged sectors of society are trained to become teachers.
— Bridging the electrical and digital divides.
— Build state-funded and controlled high-speed Internet systems.
— Ensure that all schoolchildren have access to all elements of the educational process, including extracurricular activities.
— Develop channels through which students participate in decision-making processes in all forms of higher education.
— Make education a lifelong experience, enabling people at every stage of life to benefit from the practice of learning in various types of institutions. This will foster the value that education is not just about building a career, but about building a society that supports the continued growth and development of spirit and community.
— Subsidize higher education and professional courses for workers of all ages in fields related to their profession.
— Make education, including higher education, accessible to all in their spoken languages; ensure that governments take responsibility for providing educational materials in the languages spoken in their countries through translations and other means.
— Establish management training institutes that meet the needs of cooperatives in the industrial, agricultural and service sectors.
“A Plan to Save the Planet” is rooted in the principles of the 1945 United Nations Charter, the document with the highest level of consensus in the world – 193 United Nations Member States have signed this binding treaty. We hope that you will read the plan and the file carefully. They have been produced for discussion and debate and need to be discussed and developed.
The study was a key instrument for the growth of working class struggle, as seen in the impact of working class newspapers, journals and literature on the expansion of popular imagination. In 1928, Tina Modotti photographed revolutionary Mexican farmers reading El Machete, the newspaper of their communist party. Modotti, one of the most luminous revolutionary photographers, reflected the sincere commitment of the Mexican revolutionaries, the Weimar left and the fighters of the Spanish Civil War. The farmers reading El Machete and the peasant organizer in India reading the Turkish communist poet Nâzim Hikmet in a hut during the Great Bengal Famine of 1943 depicted in the Chittaprosad woodcut suggest places where we hope the plan will be discussed. We hope this blueprint will be used not just as a critique of the present, but as a program for a future society that we will build in the present.
DissidentVoice.org, January 13. Vijay Prashad, Indian historian, journalist and commentator, is executive director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research and editor of Left Word Books.