Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Indian Spring

Dr. Manmohan Singh, an Oxford-educated economist, won the long, drawn out Indian election for Prime Minister. Some 700 million voters gave a majority in Parliament to the Congress Party, the party of the country's first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. The Hindu nationalist BJP Party's rhetoric, which would have served to inflame the unstable situation in Pakistan, was pushed aside by voters.

India's economic development has been misguided since the 1950's, when teams of Harvard and MIT development economists were relentless advocates for heavy industrial development. Today, the new mantra is to develop the Internet infrastructure. We're told that 30% of the population now live in urban areas. However, that means 70% of the population still live in villages, and Silicon Valley expats not withstanding, India is still a nation of villages.

Clean water, sanitation and reliable power are keys to sustainable economic growth. In the villages, people need simple, low cost and reliable ways to use sustainable fuels for cooking meals, and foodstuffs that don't rely on high cost inputs. Power, water and sanitation are large-scale public works projects, and the government has to find a way to become more effective at delivering these needs.

On the "appropriate technology" front, lots of private companies, international agencies, and family foundations are developing simple, but really useful items like a solar oven that burns fuel cakes made from animal and plant waste. It's not glamorous, but it would truly deliver high economic and social returns.

Here's hoping that Prime Minister Singh sets off a wave of energy and commitment to the needs of the 714 million people who elected him.

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