Media Outlets Look Ahead To Obama’s Trip To India

Several media outlets looked ahead to President Barack Obama’s scheduled visit to India later this week, as part of his Asia-Pacific tour.

In an article that examines the challenges some people living in India face, as they fail to receive “the barest of services” from the government, the Associated Press/Mercury News writes, when “Obama visits India Nov. 6, he will find a country of startlingly uneven development and perplexing disparities, where more people have cell phones than access to a toilet, according to the United Nations.”

The article notes some of the disparities seen across the country, writing, though India “offers cheap, world-class medical care to Western tourists at private hospitals, [the country] has some of the worst child mortality and maternal death rates outside sub-Saharan Africa. … And while tens of millions have benefited from India’s rise, many more remain mired in some of the worst poverty in the world.” The AP/Mercury News continues, “There were more than 670 million cell phone connections in India by the end of August, a number that has been growing by close to 20 million a month, according to government figures … U.N. figures show that only 366 million Indians have access to a private toilet or latrine, leaving 665 million to defecate in the open.”

The piece describes Indian leaders’ recent efforts to provide services to India’s poor, such as those by “Sonia Gandhi, chief of the ruling Congress Party, [who] has pushed laws guaranteeing a right to food and education, as well as a gargantuan rural jobs program for nearly 100 million people.” Still, as the news service notes, “as many as 800 million Indians still live on less than $2 a day, even as Mumbai’s stock exchange sits near record highs.”

AP/Mercury News details the unsanitary conditions faced by populations living in the slums in India who have little to no access to toilets and notes how the growing ability of the poor to communicate may add to the pressure placed on the government to deliver services to their communities. “The government is spending $350 million a year to build toilets in rural areas. Bindeshwar Pathak, the founder of the Sulabh Sanitation and Social Reform Movement, estimates the country needs about 120 million more latrines – likely the largest sanitation project in world history,” the news service writes.

The article also includes comments by Anita Patil-Deshmukhl, executive director of PUKAR, an organization that conducts research and outreach in the slums of Mumbai; R. Gopalakrishnan, executive director of Tata Sons; and people living on the ground in India, who describe the challenges they face when attempting to access water or toilets (Nessman, 10/30).

IANS/Economic Times reports that the president will meet with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to discuss ways India and the U.S. can partner to help tackle issues relating to energy and health.

“The key areas of collaboration that are being discussed include pooling together resources and research to spawn a second green revolution and developing a coordinated strategy for combating HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases, said officials,” according to the news service. “The two sides also plan to collaborate in the development of non-conventional sources of energy such as solar and wind energy and sharing their experience in e-learning and the India-aided Pan Africa e-network that brings the benefits of tele-education and tele-medicine to Africans,” IANS/Economic Times adds (10/31).

The Wall Street Journal’s “India Real Time” blog, meanwhile, examines India’s “growing concern” that “the U.S. will not look out for India’s interests as it seeks a way out” of Afghanistan. According to the blog, “[t]he U.S. is looking to reassure India with some cooperation in civilian aid programs.”

“The U.S. expressed particular interest in India’s Self Employed Women’s Association [SEWA], an organization that has provided embroidery and handiwork training to women in Afghanistan. USAID may collaborate with SEWA to bring accounting or computer literacy programs to Afghan women, [an] Indian official [with knowledge of recent talks between USAID and the Indian government] said,” the blog writes. “It remains unclear whether the collaboration will be mentioned by Mr. Obama, who arrives in Mumbai at the end of this week but it may be one way in which he will publicly seek to convince India that the U.S. wants it to continue to be closely involved in shaping Afghanistan’s future” (Abi-Habib, 11/1).

According to a White House press briefing, Obama will also discuss agriculture and food security on his trip to India (10/27).

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