Friday, August 02, 2013

Unicef does a balancing act, removes a few of the negative remarks on Gujarat's social sector from its website

By Our Representative
In a sharp about-turn, the United Nations Children's Fund, or Unicef, has changed its Gujarat profile of Gujarat following a www.counterview.net report, which had highlighted how the top UN body had criticised the state's social sector indicators, providing detailed figures on health, education and malnutrition (click HERE to read the report). The new profile on Gujarat, which it has put on the web, does underline that Gujarat has "miles to cover in ensuring that the economic growth trasnlates into improved human development", but removes all the negative figures which had shown Gujarat social sector in poor light.
While there is no indication why this has happened and under whose pressure, the website kickstarts its Gujarat profile by saying that "Gujarat’s economic development has been often acclaimed as a highly effective growth and private sector driven model", but it does not say that this has happened in the last one decade. It suggests, it began in 1991, with new economic policy: "The average growth rate of GDP in Gujarat over the last two decades has been higher than the national average, and more balanced than the other high growth rate states, primarily because of improved performance across sectors, especially that of agriculture and industry."
Even as toning down its critique by removing the figures, it does not fail to mention that "in terms of overall social development, Gujarat has more miles to cover in ensuring that the economic growth translates into improved human development." It adds, "Though there has been significant improvement in terms of health and education infrastructure over the years, especially in urban areas, the challenge remains in further improving the access of people living in remote rural areas to health and education services."
It underlines, "In the area of social development, one of the main challenges faced by the state is the high prevalence of child under nutrition, in addition to a slow reduction in Infant Mortality Rate (IMR) and Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR)". But at the same time, it tries to sound strike a balance by saying that this has "drawn necessary attention of the Government and forms a critical partnership area for Unicef."
Unicef says, "The organization is engaging with the State Government by providing technical support for immunization, ante-natal care and to enhance access and quality of elementary education, with greater focus on hard-to-reach areas." It adds, "Unicef set up its office in Gujarat in 1992 and since then it has been collaborating with the Government of Gujarat to support accelerated and sustained progress on children related issues. Inclusion and participation of disadvantaged children continues to be a high priority".
Trying to sound positive, the Unicef says, currently it "works closely with various departments at state level, district administration, and with civil society, along with a network of women, youth and children’s organisations, NGOs, professional bodies, academic institutes for the benefit of women and children of the state." As a result of these partnerships, "successful and replicable models in health, nutrition, education, sanitation and child protection have been developed and scaled up to deliver lasting results."
It further says, "The emphasis has been towards developing the Government’s capacity, strengthening the systems and networks, advocating for constructive policies, empowering communities and local groups and inspiring them to adopt appropriate behaviours and practices", blaming "geographical location" as the main reason for failure to develop the eastern tribal belt.
Unicef says, "The access to basic services by the state’s 14.76* per cent tribal population [Census 2011] is constrained by difficult geographical reach and remoteness. To combat this, the State Government has adopted Taluka – a sub district citizen-centric approach, which offers the opportunity for Unicef to build the capacities of local institutions and Government functionaries for enhanced service delivery in core areas of Unicef."
While saying that "in recent years, the social infrastructures like health and education have grown significantly", it says, "This can in a way also largely be attributed to the increased presence of private sector in the state." At the same time it adds, "it would be crucial to ensure that access to services is enhanced for those in need."
It also points out, "Issues of quality and access to basic services by the poor have emerged as a top priority for the State Government. Responding to this, Gujarat, in its 12th Five Year plan, has enhanced social sector allocation to 40 per cent. This will help addressing the infrastructural gaps and be instrumental in meeting the critical needs and entitlements of children and women."
Interestingly, it blames "issues of social norms and behaviour" for continuing "to be a barrier in promoting access to safe drinking water, improved sanitation, exclusive breast feeding, use of iodised salt, hand-washing, and immunization among others." It adds, "Unicef has been engaging with the State Government in addressing these issues through the development of and integrated behaviour change communication strategy, tools and campaigns."

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