The Oldest Civilisation with the Youngest Population
INDIA’S ASSETS FOR THE SUSTAINABLE WORLD
(Invited article that appeared with its translation in Marathi in the special issue of ” Vanarai ” published on the occassion of its 25th Anniversary in 2011. Vanarai is NGO founded by Dr. Mohan Dharia , Former Minister of Commerce of India and Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, India )
Every one, when young, plays with the ball. We throw it, kick it, bounce it, and catch it. Later in the life we do the same, but with another enormous ball called “the Earth”. We play with the Earth. That Earth is presently bruised, worn-out and deflated but we continue throwing it and kicking it. Many of us even neglect that ball like a dust bean kept in the corner. In our quest to so called ‘prosperity’ , we do not recognize the urgent need to care for this wonderful ball-our only home in this universe.
The youth is in better position to understand this ‘ ball-game’ than anybody else because they are nearer to their young past.
While giving one of the speeches in the Beijing University recently to the students, I was describing how deteriorated the health of our planet is. I described the extent of deforestation, water scarcity, climate change, ozone layer depletion and so on. One of the students commented, “ Yes, the old people have let the ball fall to the dust. But we young know that ball falls, but it will rebound! Even if it does not, we will dribble, tap and make it rebound. It is not impossible. ”
How true! Today we are facing environmental, social and economic crisis. We all are living in the time, which is exciting as well as frightening. Exciting because the new technologies like super computers, Internet, mobile telephones, GMOs, are opening up new opportunities. They are taking us to the crazy ride that makes us forget the ‘ living with nature’ and the value of ecosystems.
At the same time, there are frightening events related to the global warming, energy security, land degradation and reduction in the agricultural productivity. These crisis are threatening to derail our exciting times and crazy rides to the prosperity . They stand to nullify the progress that we have made during the last few decades.
Take for example the crisis of deforestation. Worldwide, deforestation continues at an alarming rate, about 13 million hectares per year. This means that every year the world loses the forest equivalent to the area of two Maharashtra! Forests are not just trees, but they are our assets on which majority of poor depend on for their livelihood.
The water crisis will hit us hard in very near future in terms of its availability and quality. In next two to three decades the water availability will reduce by half. To top-up, the climate change is making the matters worst in drying up the water bodies above and below the earth surface. It has also creating the serious threat to the food security there by putting the existence of the human society with its membership of 7 billion and reaching to 9 billion by 2050, at risk. In face of these crisis very little is being done to address these issues heads on. Today’s youth is our last hope.
To find solutions to these alarming challenges would need bold and brave thinking. It would need the application of the fresh minds and fertile attitude to find the innovative and appropriate solutions. I am convinced that such freshness and fertility would come from the young people of the world that represent half of the population of the world. Indian youth stands out when it comes to ‘ Fresh Mind and Fertile Aptitude”.
We hear a lot about Indian youths in terms of their number and their potential. Indeed, India is now second most populous country in the world, with over 1.2 billion people, more than a sixth of the world’s population. Already containing 17.5% of the world’s population, India is projected to be the world’s most populous country by 2025, surpassing China, its population reaching 1.6 billion by 2050.
But more importantly, India has more than 50% of its population below the age of 25 and more than 65% hovers below the age of 35. It is expected that, in 2020, the average age of an Indian will be 29 years, compared to 37 for China and 48 for Japan. This shows that Indian working age population will be younger and younger. In another 20 years, another about 240 million of working age population will be added. No other country has such “ youth” advantage.
But what does it mean in terms of the crisis in front of us? Does this scenario and numbers add to the crisis? Or does it help in resolving the crisis?
Firstly the Indian youth has a “genome” that integrally maps the values of the nature and our mother Earth. The teachings and the philosophy of the Indian Civilization are ingrained in its ancient Vedas. Respect of five elements I.e. fire, water, air, land and spirit of the soul (Panchmahabhuta) is essence of the living with them and to ensure the sustainability. In the pursuit of the comforts of the modern world Indian youth might have forgotten this heritage but it is part of the Indian genes.
I would say that the numbers and statistics indicated above are important, but these numbers will not result in the desired benefits automatically . The engrained fundamentals of the values and quality of youth in India are enabling factors. But we need to educate and guide them well.
United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has initiated a programme entitled TUNZA. TUNZA is Kiswahili word, which means, “to treat with care and affection“. Kiswahili is a sub-regional language used in East Africa where UNEP is headquartered. Tunza is an overall title for UNEP’s programme for children and youth.
The programme is based on a strategy that aims to provide young people with information and tools on how to “treat Mother Earth with care” and how to Act for a better world. It is the programme that exactly fills the gap that exists between the potential of youth and the enabling action by them.
We need eco-societies, eco-technologies, and eco-policies. More than that we need “eco-minds”. We need science of determination, technology of faith and policy of courage to understand our interdependence on the flora and fauna. Such eco-minds will ensure that the “ball” that has fallen will rebound.