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Does India Still Need Aid?

By Kennedy Dhanabalan | 08 Oct 2015

The UK Government has announced it will stop giving bilateral aid to India. Does a country with a booming economy and its own space programme, still need our support?

In September 2014, images from Mars were beamed millions of miles across space, not from an American or Russian satellite, but from an Indian space probe. This has caused many to question whether a nation that can spend $74m on a satellite, should still receive development aid. We asked Kennedy Dhanabalan, head of our longstanding Indian partner Eficor, if it's time for India to go it alone ...

There is clearly a great deal of rapid development in India which you can see when they send rockets to Mars, and when you spot the Indian names among the world's richest people. Despite the 'global' recession hitting in 2008, wealth in India is to have grown from $2,000 per adult to $5,500 between 2000 and 2012.

There is also a growing gap between the richest and the poorest. While India is experiencing huge economic growth, its prosperity is restricted to better educated people with higher social status and people who live in urban centres like New Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore.

Called to be salt and light

In rural India, just three in ten people have access to clean water – that's just 91 million people out of a total population of 1.2 billion. And almost two-thirds of the population don't have access to adequate sanitation. The World Bank estimates that unsafe drinking water causes 21 per cent of all diseases in India.

homeless children on pipeline

Children from Mumbai slums

But the statistic we should pay most attention to is the fact that 30 per cent–almost a third–of the world's poorest people live in India. It is also important to consider two more key indicators of poverty: infant mortality rate and malnutrition status. Although there has been progress in recent years on both of these, India alone still accounts for 20 per cent of child mortality worldwide and nearly half of Indian children under the age of five are chronically malnourished.

This is a big challenge for Eficor and the church. The church is a minority in India: less than three per cent of people are Christians, and they are mostly concentrated in communities in the south and north-east. Yet even in the communities where Christians are a tiny minority, we are called to be salt and light.

Facing up to the scale of the problem

The scale of the problem is so big it means that we cannot release people from poverty purely through welfare alone. It is crucial we empower people to take responsibility for their health, to know their own rights, and ensure existing laws intended to benefit poor communities are implemented. Poor people often do not know about these new laws, so we must give them the knowledge they need to benefit from these government schemes and claim their rights.

At Eficor we believe passionately in empowering people to change their own communities through their own decisions and actions. We do this by running training courses for local churches and organisations, focusing on development from a biblical perspective.

Cyclone Relief work, India

Tearfund partners Eficor, srpinging into action after a major cyclone hits

An example of this is the Malto community in northern India (one of the primitive tribes from Jharkhand state). Until Eficor started to work with them in 1992, the infant mortality rate was 250 deaths for every thousand births and the literacy rate was just one per cent. Now, the mortality rate has dropped to 133 and the literacy rate has risen to 24 per cent. Life expectancy has increased and there are older people in the village; when we started, there was no one over the age of 45. Children are now going to school, income has increased and exploitation has been reduced.

Neglecting half of the world's poor

While it is encouraging to see such progress, we still face huge challenges. So, when you look at the economic development in India, you must also see the children who are dying or who are malnourished. If you neglect India, you are also neglecting half of the malnourished children on the planet, and one third of all poor people in the world.

So the question we should ask is not 'Should we support India?' but rather, 'Should we be supporting poor people?' I believe that to fulfil the biblical call to look after poor people it is crucial to continue to support poor communities in India.

Written by

Photo of Kennedy  Dhanabalan

Written by Kennedy Dhanabalan

Kennedy Dhanabalan is a pastor in Delhi and head of Eficor, the Evangelical Fellowship of India Commission on Relief.