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FEATURE STORY

A Day in Uttar Pradesh: Jim Kim Sees the Scale of Development Challenges

March 13, 2013

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • In India’s most populous state, World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim experienced the challenges the country faces in meeting the soaring aspirations of its people and reducing poverty.
  • Kim visited a village to see a child care center and village health center; traveled to a neighborhood in Kanpur, where he walked around an urban settlement; and then went to the banks of the Ganges (Ganga) River.
  • “In our global effort to end extreme poverty and boost shared prosperity, you can’t be successful if you are not successful in Uttar Pradesh specifically and India generally,” Kim said.

On an early afternoon in a quiet village in Uttar Pradesh – India’s most populous state, and also one of its poorest – World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim experienced the challenges an emerging India faces in meeting the soaring aspirations of its people and reducing poverty.

The magnitude is formidable – if Uttar Pradesh were a country, it would be the fifth-largest in the world. And his visit was memorable: crowds greeted him at every stop, including one neighborhood in which women rained flowers on his head.

Over several hours, Kim visited the village of Tilsari Khurd to see a child care center and village health center; traveled to a neighborhood in Kanpur, where he walked around an urban settlement; and then went to the banks of the Ganges (Ganga) River, where he saw a drainage system that pours human waste into the sacred waterway.

In Tilsari Khurd (population 3,791) past a patchwork of ripening winter wheat, Kim sat down with a group of preschool children at an early childhood care center. When one little girl was asked what she liked best about coming here, she promptly replied that it was the “khichri” – the hot porridge of rice and dal (lentils) that is given to the children every day to boost their nutrition under a national program.

At the village health center, Kim met women paramedics who provide pre- and post-natal care to pregnant and lactating women and new mothers. Providing health care to scattered villages is particularly a challenge for Uttar Pradesh, where more than three-fourths of the population live in the countryside, women bear more children than in other states, and rates of infant and maternal mortality are among India’s highest. Nevertheless, a cash-transfer scheme that encourages deliveries at health facilities is having an impact, and “all village children have been immunized against common childhood diseases, including measles, and polio,” a nurse-midwife told Kim.

Open Quotes

Cleaning up a major river is always difficult, but the challenge on the Ganges is even greater because of the deep poverty, growing populations, and rapid industrialization along its banks. Close Quotes

Jim Yong Kim
World Bank Group President

Urban poverty – the new challenge

Next, Kim visited Gwaltoli, a low-income neighborhood in the once-proud industrial city of Kanpur, long a magnet for poor rural migrants. With some 10 million people moving into urban areas each year in search of jobs and opportunity, India is in the throes of a historic rural-urban migration, second in magnitude only to China’s.

Gwaltoli epitomizes the challenges of unplanned urban settlements in India, where administrations are facing huge strains in providing jobs, housing, and infrastructure – power, water, sewerage, garbage disposal, roads, and transportation. With large extended families sharing tiny one-room homes and common toilets and taps, life in Gwaltoli spills into  the streets. Women scrub clothes, winnow wheat, or sit in groups stringing garlands of marigolds to earn a paltry sum.

Rural ways fill urban spaces. Cows lie in the middle of the road, goats bleat, and cow-dung cakes dry in the sun, to be used to cook the evening meal when money for fuel runs out. A wide black drain cuts through the neighborhood, collecting the area’s waste, which eventually empties into the Ganges nearby.

Meeting people’s basic needs

When Kim visited, Gwaltoli’s normally languid atmosphere was charged with a new sense of urgency. Walking down the main lane amid a surging throng of humanity, Kim came upon a group of neighbors sitting outside their brightly painted homes. 

Indrani, 50, told Kim how she and her neighbors had found their own solution to the water problem, for municipal water supply does not reach the neighborhood. “We used to wait for hours to collect water from a common hand pump. So, we collected money to install a pump of our own (to draw up groundwater) and a tank to store it in. But we only get water when there is electricity. And that is unpredictable. On summer nights, it’s impossible to sleep without it.”

Ram Lal Bhikari, Indrani’s neighbor, stressed the need for employment. “We need jobs,” he called out to Kim, his views echoed by the women who worry about the large numbers of young men with little productive work to do.

Ganges – sacred but polluted

Moving on, Kim visited the banks of the Ganges, where the drain that runs through Gwaltoli, now swollen with waste from other neighborhoods, flows into the river’s waters, held sacred by millions of India’s people. Cities like Kanpur discharge enormous amounts of untreated sewage and industrial waste into the river’s critical middle stretches.

Cleaning up a major river is always difficult, but the challenge on the Ganges is even greater because of the deep poverty, growing populations, and rapid industrialization along its banks,” Kim said. “We stand ready to help India, especially Uttar Pradesh, with the knowledge and investments to reduce pollution in this great river.”

Efforts are already under way to resolve Gwaltoli’s water and sewerage problems. The state government is setting up a water treatment plant on the barrage upstream, and plans are in place to treat the drain’s waters before they meet the sacred river.

After his trip, Kim said he learned much from the experience.

“It was exhilarating,” he said. “Being in Uttar Pradesh gave me such a strong sense of the scale of the development challenges. In our global effort to end extreme poverty and boost shared prosperity, you can’t be successful if you are not successful in Uttar Pradesh specifically and India generally.”