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Development Cooperation Handbook/Interviews/Shiva Kumar

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Shiva Kumar
Development economist
New Delhi, India, February 2011


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Shiva Kumar - Media and the MDGs

Dr. A. K. Shiva Kumar is a development economist and Adviser to UNICEF, India. He is also Visiting Professor at the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad and teaches economics and public policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Shiv works on issues of poverty, health, nutrition, basic education, women’s right and children’s rights. He is closely involved with development evaluation and is a founding member of the International Development Evaluation Association. He has been a regular contributor to UNDP’s Human Development Reports and National Human Development Reports. His areas of interest include human development, social sector analysis, and the impact of development policies on children and women. He works closely with several non-governmental organizations engaged in the promotion of health, human rights and environment. Shiv did his M.A. in Economics from Bangalore University and his Post Graduate Diploma in Management from Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad. He also has a Masters in Public Administration and a Ph.D in Political Economy and Government, both from Harvard University.


New Delhi, India, February 2011Edit

National Governments and International Organizations – their commitment to MDGsEdit

Shiva Kumar - The MDGs and the policy debates around them

When you talk about the MDGs you have to trace back to in the history of ideas what started in the 1990s as the idea of human development movement. So you had 10 years of a human development movement, influencing strongly the articulation of the MDGs. It was an idea promoted by UNDP, it was led by led by Prof. Amaratya Sen and the late Mahbub-ul-Haq and a lot of other social scientists. You should recall that the period 1990, or 2-3 years proceeding that, were very important years in world history. You saw the collapse of the Soviet Union, the break-up of Eastern Europe, the unification of Germany, so a lot of changes were taking place in the world. And people came to realize that all the material prosperity that you saw in terms of building in terms of comforts of living, were important but were not capturing the essence of human progress. India is growing 8-9% every year. You are coming to Delhi after a few years and you must be amazed by the transformation of the city… but does that really capture the essence of human progress. The MDGs were influenced by this very important question “what is progress in society - across the countries, across the world”. The human development idea suggests that you have to look at freedoms, you have to look at opportunities, so you may find that there is a lot of growth happening. But if economic freedoms are not expending, if political freedoms are not expanding… even as we are talking today you saw the situation in Egypt. it is not that over 30 years Egypt has not seen any economic progress, but the revolt there was much more for political freedoms. Political reasons are as important as economic freedoms.

Shiva Kumar - India is in the forefront of social policies


When the world leaders got together in 2000, it started with endorsing a Millennium Deceleration, and the deceleration talked about 6 fundamental values (that is where the importance of the UN comes in, when in moments of crisis, that in moments of difficulties, some voice that brings together all nations and all societies is absolutely critical) and the 6 fundamental values that the Millennium Declaration talks about starts with freedoms. The big shift that the Human Development reports and UNDP made to global thinking and to national policies, is that all this material wealth is important but you have to answer the question “are women and children in India enjoying greater freedoms? “ “Are political freedoms expanding? Are social freedom expanding?” The second emphasis of the Millennium Declaration was equality. You cannot have societies where certain sections are doing exceptionally well and others are not. Equality is ingrained in the MDGs and so is solidarity, tolerance, respect for nature and shared values, shared experiences.


Shiva Kumar - What is the contribution of UN and other international donors to India's development?

If you look at the MDGs there was a lot of skepticism: who decided these goals? For all the goals seemed for developing countries. Some people from the developing countries said “these are all meant for poor countries, what are the obligations for the developed world? What are they planning to do?”. Some said “why doesn’t the developed world argue for nuclear disarmament? Why don’t the developed countries say that they will reduce the manufacture and production of arms and ammunition? In fact most of the members of the security council are the manufacturer of small harms, which has contributed to a lot of violence. So there was a bit of the tension at the begging, but there was no deny of the fact that these seven goals were fundamental to least for the developing world and that there has to be a collective effort. And the lesson that the world had leaned was the interconnectedness of these goals.

Importance of MDGs in redifining the PovertyEdit

Shiva Kumar - The importance of MDGs in redefining what are the poverty drivers

What is poverty? If you look at it only as income deprivation then you are missing the whole point. Because you have to look at the poverty of opportunity. We always say that income is an outcome, so if I find that this person is earning I need to know why. I have to ask the question why you are earning less and this you will always trace it back to income opportunities. Did not have adequate education, you did not have adequate command over resources, health. Examples of how development and progress is not just per capita income indicators, gdp, etc. Delhi where below poverty line is 8% but malnourishment under 5 is 33%. One of the biggest concern in Delhi is security of women (not just at night but public spaces, work place, etc.) Under 5 mortality rate is a very strong indicator of development. This depends on income but also on education. When women are literate under mortality rate drops. It depends also on the quality of water, sanitation. So when you say you will reduce under 5 mortality rate you are fundamentally talking about major changes in the standard of living. In India it is also about women position of women in society; so comes when women do paid work outside, a change in the thinking of society is created. Income gives a greater voice, changes power relations, possibility to talk to many other people. It is the opportunity that she gets with the income.

Shiva Kumar - Comparing the development in India and China

What I really like about the MDGs is that it has thrown up a lot of discussions and what you find in terms of a follow through of the MDGs, is that there is no one solution. What works in Nicaragua may not work in Mexico, may not work in South Africa. Thailand said, we have already achieved Universal Education, our Mortality Rate is very low, what do you expect Thailand to do? So they launched MDG +, which said we have to achieve more. Bhutan added MDG 9 and said “zero tolerance for corruption” and they said that by 2020 Bhutan must be free from all types of corruption. So the nice thing about the MDGs was that, the UN said that all the countries must adopt it and must adapt it and localize it. So when you localize the MDGs then the debate becomes not at a global level of ideas but much more practical in terms of policies and programs and what are you doing about it.

The news papers cannot just cover the growth story of India, you also have to look at what is happening to the lives of people. Can we confidently stand up and say the environment is better in India.? Can we confidently stand up and say the quality of schooling has improved? Can India confidently say that access of drinking water is much better? Because progress in society has to be measured by these indicators of human development. The other very important idea that is slowly gaining in is the idea of Human Right. When you talked about human rights the idea would focus largely on civil and political rights. But with the MDGs the economic, social and cultural rights gained importance and now they have to be put into the same level. You cannot say that economic and social rights are more important than civil and political rights. So what that you don’t have the right to vote, like in Myanmar, but the state is providing for everything… it is not, it is not sustainable. If you ask today why have many development projects or poverty alleviation projects suffered. They will tell you it was top-down and the community level, whose life it was supposed to influence and change, had very little say. There was no sense of ownership, there was no participation. So now with the Human Rights discourse , and saying that both economic and social rights, cultural right as well as civil and political have to be taken together, there is much greater recognition in the world of adopting a rights based approach to development.

The right to educationEdit

Shiva Kumar - The economic and cultural rights

The “right to education”. When the constitution was made in 1950, the argument was made that education is not a fundamental right. Because the government then said that we do not have the financial resources to ensure that. So they said, give us 10 years. 1960 came, 1970, 1980, 1990… the same argument “we do not have the financial resources. And at the same time you were seeing that India was becoming a top rate country for higher education (IITs, IIMs). But the neglect of basic education in schooling was unforgivable. An it took civil society years of pushing till it was made a fundamental right in 2003. Only starting in 2010 the government has made the financial allocation.

This is the fundamental question: where does India get the financial resources to ensure that all children get quality education, that every Indian has access to health? And what is the answer you give? There are two ways of looking at it. One is to ask the question “can India afford these high level investments in basic health and education?” But a more fundamental way of putting this question today is “can India afford not to invest in basic health, basic education, basic nutrition and these essentials in life. But fundamentally what is behind the question. It is not a question of money, it is a question of political priorities. Is the political commitment there to say that this is the priority for this country? That the sustenance of economic growth, that the desire of India to become a prominent player in the world tomorrow will depend on how well we address these basic deprivation in the lives of millions of Indians.

If ask students, what is the biggest problem, they will tell you population. And I’m amazed that people think that population is India’s biggest problem because there is such good news on the population side. That is absolutely wrong. Look at China, it has a population of 1.2 billion people and in terms of these basics in life, whether it is health, education, nutrition, water, sanitation, housing, they are much superior to us and they achieved it when their level of income was as low as India’s is. It is m It is not about growth rate, it is not with population size. It has to do with the fact that India has not recognized that its strength are its people and that unless you look after people you will continue to experience the problems that we are. Take care of people and population will take care of itself.

Coherence and effectiveness of cooperation programmesEdit

Shiva Kumar - The importance of development evaluation

These are the very investments, better health, better education, better nutrition, that you need to accelerate economic growth. The traditional way is to see that when countries become more richer, people will have more income with which to buy more food, more housing, better education and so on and so forth. But there is a very strong connection the other way. Unless the people’s health condition improve and education improves, you are not going to be able to improve productivity and growth. India spends 5% of GDP on health, which is what China spends, what Thailand spends, that many countries spend. But what is striking about the patterns of health expenditure in India is: 1% is spent by the Government and 4% is private out of pocket. This percent is unusual in most developed countries, if you go to Europe it is the opposite; 80% is covered by the government and 20% is out of pocket. So if you trace back on why is India doing so poorly and why are these MDGs on health so fundamental, I would say, because the Government of India, like in basic education, public spending is one of the lowest in the world. Government of India has committed to increase public spending from 1% to 3% of GDP, they made the commitment in 2005 but we have hardly gone to 1.2% of GDP. (importance of investing in the government and the responsibility of the government to provide for basic needs and rights) Faith of People in the Government is reinforced by greater investment in it facilities.

Shiva Kumar - Without people participation development actions fails

In 2005 India launched something called the National Rural Health Mission. And here again you find that in the last 5 years, a great increase the utilization of public health facilities. When you invest in public institution, the faith of people goes up. (example of his faith in Government Health System and People). We are always doing this, check with the government first, get the diagnose right and then get a treatment from the private sector. So the faith of people in the government is phenomenally high and, I think, the government needs to realize that that faith will be reinforced , needs to be reinforced and strengthen, but only if they are accountable. You cannot talk about development without talking about corruption. The second problem, if you ask anybody is corruption. And that today across the world you cannot talk about development unless you talk about corruption. I often ask the question, yes, corruption is important; but do you think corruption really accounts for differential performances across countries? So if you take a table and say, here is China, here is India, here is Nicaragua, here is this this… why are the level of life expectancy, opportunity of schooling or maternal mortality rates so different? Can corruption explain the differences across these nations? And I ask these questions always, can we explain, in a way, the difference in human development outcomes only because of corruption? The answer is certainly no. But having said that, it’s equally important for us to say that public resources are very scares, especially in developing countries like India, these public resources must be used efficiently, must yield effective outcomes, must be invested in sustainable initiatives … so how do you ensure that and why is it not happening?


Shiva Kumar - Taxation is not money taken away from the market - Some purchases are more efficient if done collectively

See alsoEdit

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