Dr Arun Mitra
With the elections over, it is time to think beyond nuclear rhetoric, surgical strikes, threats of hitting inside the territory and waging war. Such slogans sound good for short term gains, but in the long run these can be catastrophic with serious impact on the life of people. There is lack of trust among nations in South Asia, particularly in respect to the relationship between India and Pakistan. This mistrust becomes an alibi for the military industrial complex on either side to justify huge military spending. This is done on the pretext of threats, some of them existential and some imaginary. It is therefore important to be realistic in defining and propagating such threats as this concerns our lives.
Global arms expenditure is a cause of serious concern. The US defense budget is about three times as large as China’s. China’s military spending was three times more than India in 2017. But China’s percentage of GDP spent on defense was less than India’s. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) database, estimated that even though China’s military expenditure was USD 228 billion in 2017 while India spent 64 billion, India’s expenditure in terms of GDP was 2.5% of its GDP while China spent 1.9% of the GDP. India’s defense spending increased by around 7 per cent from the previous fiscal year and Pakistan increased its defense budget by around 20% for 2018-19. However, Pakistan being a small country, its defense budget is five times lower.
The ‘Military Balance 2018′ report by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) estimates India overtook the UK as the fifth-largest defense spender in the world in 2017. According to SIPRI, with talk about increasing military spending towards 3% of GDP, India is likely to be at world number three military spending level. By 2025-2027, India will likely double its military spending.
In a “The BMJ South Asia collection 2020 Authors’ Consultation”, organized by the British Medical Journal (BMJ) on May 29th 2019′ at Dubai, the issue was seriously debated. Participants from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal reached a consensus that the South Asian countries have similar health problems and thus common solutions. While there is abundance of Communicable Disease burden, there has been observed that non communicable diseases have shown an increase in the last few years. It is therefore essential that a collective effort is put in to sort out the health related issues. As health indicators of the region are very dismal this becomes even more important. All these countries should increase public spending on health and education and other social needs.
We have to face the challenge to meet the SDG goals on health by 2030. India is one among 193 countries who have signed the Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) launched by a UN Summit in New York on 25-27 September 2015. To attain indicators of health there is urgent need for poverty eradication; bring down hunger to zero, quality education, gender equality, clean water and sanitation etc. Maternal mortality ratio has to be brought down to less than 70 per 100,000 live births, neonatal mortality to 12 per 1,000 live births and under-5 mortality to less than 25 per 1,000 live births. This requires minimum of 5% – 6% of the public spending of GDP.
Since our public health spending is around 1.1% only, it sounds difficult to meet these targets. According to SDG Index and Dashboards Report 2018 India’s ranking in SDG is 112 and Pakistan 126. With ranking at Sri Lanka 89, Nepal 102, Bangladesh 111, Bhutan 83, China 54 these countries are doing better. In SDG on health India ranks at 143 out of 188 countries.
It is time to review our priorities. The civil society has to come forward in all the countries of the region to raise the issues that concern our health. A strong voice is needed to force the decision makers to cut down the arms expenditure. For this there is need for a continuous dialogue among nations and monitoring by the civil society. Health as a common goal can be the nodal point for a lasting peace in the region. (IPA)
Dr Arun Mitra