Daily struggle in earth's 'armpit'

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Friday, May 12, 2000 INDIA

Daily struggle in S. N. M. Abdi in Calcutta

Fatima Bibi lives with her six children in a makeshift tent made from plastic bags on the pavement of one of Calcutta's busiest thoroughfares, Central Avenue. The poor Muslim family cooks, eats, bathes and sleeps in the tiny tent, oblivious to tens of thousands of people who pass by their open home.

Ms Bibi, 44, is also blissfully unaware of the demographic milestone crossed by India yesterday.

Calcutta is India's most densely populated city, with 23,733 people per square kilometre. More than half of the estimated population of 4.4 million live in slums or on the streets, begging and fighting for food and water. India's capital, New Delhi, has only 6,300 people per kilometre, while Bombay has 16,400 and Madras 21,800. Calcutta bears the brunt of the urban population explosion.

Over-population has strained and stretched Calcutta's basic infrastructure almost to the point of total civic chaos. Sheer numbers have compounded the dirt and squalor, which has earned the city the sobriquet of "armpit of the world". The city's sores are only too visible: they accost you each time you step on to the roads full of litter, stench and disabled children.

There is a chronic shortage of water, particularly in summer. The public handpumps dotted along the streets see long queues of bucket-carrying women every morning during the two hours the water corporation supplies unfiltered water.

The corporation is at its wit's end to keep the streets clear of thousands of tonnes of rubbish generated by new slums and illegal settlements mushrooming every day to accommodate the burgeoning tide of migrant labour.

Long queues are a good indicator of Calcutta's dubious distinction as India's most congested city. It can take more than two hours to pay a bill.

Government hospitals, which long ago gave up trying to control the city's population, can no longer provide even a bed to seriously ill patients. Instead, they are forced to sleep on the corridor floors with cats and dogs.

But the city's teeming millions provide a huge number of votes for the communists, who have ruled the city since 1977.

The communists claim they have made an honest effort to curb population growth and extend civic amenities to as many of the poor and underprivileged as possible, but the results are still far from satisfactory.

-- - (x@xxx.com), May 12, 2000


May 12, 2000

May 12, 2000

India joins China at billion-people mark


NEW DELHI - With the birth of a baby girl named Astha - Faith in Hindi - India's population officially hit one billion yesterday, an event marked with fanfare and concern over the nation's too-rapid growth.

Astha was born to Anjana and Ashok Arora at 5:05 a.m., making India one of only two countries - the other is China - with a population of one billion or more.

Just nine hours after Astha's birth, she and her sari-clad mother were wheeled before government ministers and a horde of journalists at New Delhi's Safdarjang Hospital.

She weighed 6 pounds, 13 ounces at birth, doctors said.

"I feel fine," said Anjana Arora, weak and overwhelmed by the chaotic reception.

"I'm happy," said her husband, who works in an automotive spare-parts shop for a salary of $50 per month.

The government marked the billion-population milestone as part of a public campaign pressing Indians to have smaller families and rein in the country's spiraling population growth.

Every measure of progress India has made since independence in 1948 has been swamped by the swelling population: Food production has tripled, yet many people go hungry; literacy has increased, but so has the overall number of illiterate people. Since an estimated 42,000 births occur in India each day, it was impossible to know exactly where the billionth person would be born.

The government picked May 11 as the date - calling it "a moment of celebration, a moment to ponder."


-- - (x@xxx.com), May 12, 2000.

Yep, just keep makin babies. Anyone ever heard what the Lemmings do? Well?

-- Richard (Astral-Acres@webtv.net), May 12, 2000.

How much of India is at or near sea-level? If a significant amount is, maybe Hawk's icebergs hold the solution.

Then, of course, we have China. That problem will likely be addressed by wars in the not-so-distant future as the ruling elite send their young men who can't find wives off on forays of conquest to keep them from revolting at home.

Kind of like Hideyoshi did when he sent his samurai to invade Korea, so they wouldn't try and overthrow him!

-- Futurist (do-we@have.a.future?), May 12, 2000.

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