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Wednesday, Oct 16, 2019

India exemplar in using sanitation, digital tech to improve lives: Bill Gates

Sanitation and India’s “innovative and thoughtful” use of digital technology to make people’s lives better are the areas where the Gates Foundation thinks India has made progress.

india Updated: Sep 18, 2019 11:29 IST
Sanchita Sharma
Sanchita Sharma
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
File photo of Bill Gates
File photo of Bill Gates (AFP File Photo )

Bill Gates explained the logic for deciding to award Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Goalkeepers Global Goals Awards on September 24 and 25 , a decision that has been opposed by some people over developments in Jammu & Kashmir — it was a move influenced by the fact that the Modi government has worked to provide sanitation to at least 500 million people

“Sanitation was chosen because in a lot of countries, it’s not discussed, it’s an almost hidden thing. The poor quality of life and the number of disease caused by poor sanitation are terrible and yet a lot of governments are unwilling to talk about it because it isn’t easy to fix and it takes time. India, over the last five years, has allocated resources and really talked about the need to clean up. India is an exemplar on this and so it’s very appropriate to have an award for something that is not as visible as vaccine coverage,” said Bill Gates in an exclusive interview, explaining the rationale for the award.

The announcement of the award, welcomed in most quarters in India, has prompted the delivery of a petition with around 100,000 signatures at the Gates Foundation’s Seattle HQ, an op-ed in the Washinton Post, and two actors pulling out from the event in New York next week.

In a statement, the Gates Foundation has said that while it respects other views, the award recognises Modi’s contribution to providing 500 million people safer sanitation.

“We work on the specific issues where we believe we can have the greatest impact for the world’s poorest,” the Gates Foundation statement said.

Sanitation isn’t the only area where the Foundation thinks India has made progress, though.

India’s “innovative and thoughtful” use of digital technology to make people’s lives better, high health and development indices in Kerala, and the financial freedom and health benefits of the cooking gas-subsidy reforms for women under the Ujjwala Yojana are showcased in Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s annual Goalkeepers Examining Inequality 2019 report released on Tuesday to track the global progress in meeting the UN’s Sustainable Developmental Goals (SDGs) by 2030.

Striking a note of cautious optimism, the Goalkeepers 2019 report says that life is getting better even for the very poorest across the world, but adds that countries housing billions of people are still projected to miss achieving SDG targets that represent a decent life. The report identifies geography and gender as the two biggest drivers of inequalities across every single country in the world.

More children die in a day in Chad in north-central Africa than in Finland in an entire year, but even within countries, the inequalities between districts are massive, it adds. “If we are serious about the SDGs, then we have to accelerate the fight against geographical inequality and make sure that more districts are excelling like Kollam (in Kerala) and Ado-Ekiti (in Nigeria),” said the report.

“The Gates Foundation has always focused in the parts of India with a large burden and where the health services needed the most improvement, specifically in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. And there has been improvement. With increased government resources going into these systems, the capacity is increased and the out-of-pocket expenses are not nearly as high,” said Gates.

Gender gap exists in every country, with women doing three times more unpaid care work, currently valued at $10 trillion per year. The gender gap in proof of ID in low income countries keeps women from accessing financial and social services, securing rights like voting, and seizing economic opportunities, like registering businesses.

“Another gender thing we’ve tracked very closely is financial services, where India has made every good progress on reforms in money transactions. Women’s access has gone up from 40% to over 70%,” said Gates.

“India is a place for some very good examples of what’s been achieved. For example, in the vaccines area, India has countywide adoption of new vaccines, we have the second measles dose and the actual execution of that’s been pretty good — and that’s why childhood deaths continue to come down,” said Gates.

Past speakers at Goalkeepers event include President Barak Obama, President Emmanuel Macron, and Deputy UN Secretary-General Amina J Mohammed; Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai and Nadia Murad; and musical performers Ed Sheeran, Lily Allen, and Fatoumata Diawara.

First Published: Sep 18, 2019 10:19 IST

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