research and policy advocacy for health & wellbeing in India.

Sanitation

Exploring the causes and consequences of widespread open defecation in India

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Sanitation

Social Inequality

Understanding how social discrimination impacts child and maternal health in rural India

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Social Inequality

Maternal Health

Exploring challenges and policy responses to adequate nutrition in motherhood to improve child health

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Maternal Health

Environment

Understanding the health consequences of climate change and air pollution, and exploring policy responses.

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Environment

Rukmini S: Why Swachh Bharat Abhiyan matters for India’s children

Rukmini’s article, published  yesterday in LiveMint, contains some of the best data visualizations that I have seen from the NFHS-4.  She also achieves the reasonable but rare step of emphasizing that many issues simultaneously are important: height among Indian children is a large enough challenge that it can reflect many problems, each big.  Read the article!

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Two photo essays that explain the broken market of faecal sludge management

On World Toilet Day, the India Water Portal published two photo essays by Prof. Sharad Prasad and Prof Isha Ray. Prasad and Ray in their photo essays –Where there are no sewers: The Toilet Cleaners of Lucknow and When the pit fills up: A day in the life of sanitation workers in urban India –explore some important aspects of solid waste management.

Where there are no toilets: The Toilet Cleaners of Lucknow profiles Rajan and Vasumati, who work as manual scavengers, narrating the complexities of their lives. Aspiration for a better future for their children is what drives these families to continue the work that comes with the worst forms of ostracization. Starting other small business is not even an option because people around them, who already avoid touching things the members of this community have touched, for sure will avoid being their customers.

When the pit fills up: A day in the life of sanitation workers in urban India, on the other hand, explores new emerging but also somewhat broken market of septic tank emptying in Indian cities. Deepak, Rajesh, and Prabhu –all from Maadiga (dalit) community –empty septic tanks.

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Social progress and social inequality: Measurements and assessments are needed… and possible

One of r.i.c.e’s recent projects is SARI: a phone survey for Social Attitudes Research in India. A series of papers and other writings by Diane, Amit, Payal, Nazar, Nidhi, and the SARI team have shown that it is possible to construct a representative sample with a phone survey, and that people will answer survey questions (sometimes surprisingly) on what you might expect to be sensitive social issues.

Eventually, SARI may help us answer even bigger questions than can be asked in a phone survey. How are people in India doing these days? The first step in answering such a big question is deciding what the question means. “By what measure?”, we should ask. The classic measure is economic growth and wealth: GDP per capita or, for those concerned about the poor, poverty rates.

But researchers have understood for decades that the economic numbers do not tell us enough to fully understand progress in well-being. For example, economic growth could come at the cost of environmental destruction. A country could be rapidly increasing its GDP while at the same time making future suffering difficult to avoid. Most observers now agree that economic growth in the developed world has done so,

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Check out our new paper on experiences and perceptions of discrimination

This week, a new paper by the SARI team came out in the Economic & Political Weekly.  Here’s the abstract:

Through the use of new survey data, the experiences and perceptions of discrimination among Dalits and Muslims have been quantified. One important result is that many respondents report experiencing discrimination at school and in interactions with government officials. These results are even more worrisome when we consider that self-reports of discrimination perhaps underestimate the true extent of the problem.

You can read the full paper here, and news coverage in Live Mint here.

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Nobel laureate Bill Nordhaus’ ideas for India

William Nordhaus has won a share of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Economics for his contribution to climate economics. In this post from Ideas for India, Dean Spears discusses Nordhaus’ work and its implications for India. He contends that India is even more climate-vulnerable than realised by the Nobel laureate’s quantitative model that describes the interplay between the economy and climate.

Climate change may be the greatest externality that human economies have ever suffered. When I take an Uber from CR Park to the Indian Statistical Institute in Delhi, the exhaust fills the air we all share. When the coal plant in Kanpur generates energy to electrify villages in the state of Uttar Pradesh, the smoke diffuses for miles. Power plants and airplane flights in the US decades ago are already warming the atmosphere into which Indian children are born today. And all of us who are rich enough to be reading a blog are participating in emissions that will change lives for future generations.

That sounds like a daunting problem for economists. But, in fact, the solution is simple enough to be included in every introductory microeconomics class. The optimal response to an externality is to internalise it: make sure decision-makers have to pay the social marginal cost.

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Social Attitudes Research, India (SARI) data is available!

Starting in 2016, we began Social Attitudes Research, India (SARI), a mobile phone survey collecting data from representative samples of adults in various states across India on people’s attitudes towards social issues such as reservations, intercaste and interreligious marriage, women working outside of the home, untouchability, ghunghat, and much more.  SARI also asked about prejudice towards marginalized communities like Dalits and Muslims, and asked Dalits and Muslims about their experiences of discrimination.

Countries all over the world track social attitudes through periodic, representative surveys to understand societal values and how they are changing over time.  India’s diversity and strict hierarchical norms often collide in inhibiting India’s human development.  We have written articles news pieces in the past months with SARI data (see a partial list here).  We hope that others will use the data to write more widely, and contribute to important policy conversations.

SARI data from Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Mumbai, and Rajasthan are now publicly available on our website (here), along with detailed documentation (here).  Please take a look!

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Paper on child height published in EPW

Please check out the Research page to read Dean and my new paper on child height using the NFHS-4 data.  It was just published in the journal Economic & Political Weekly on August 4th.  We discuss the improvements in child height in the last 10 years, compare changes in India to other countries, and try to understand how the factors that influence child height have changed.

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