The dark side of Dubai (the wet dream of the Dilli politicians who created Bhawana?)

There are three different Dubais, all swirling around each other. There are the expats, like Karen; there are the Emiratis, headed by Sheikh Mohammed; and then there is the foreign underclass who built the city, and are trapped here. They are hidden in plain view. You see them everywhere, in dirt-caked blue uniforms, being shouted at by their superiors, like a chain gang – but you are trained not to look. It is like a mantra: the Sheikh built the city. The Sheikh built the city. Workers? What workers?

Every evening, the hundreds of thousands of young men who build Dubai are bussed from their sites to a vast concrete wasteland an hour out of town, where they are quarantined away. Until a few years ago they were shuttled back and forth on cattle trucks, but the expats complained this was unsightly, so now they are shunted on small metal buses that function like greenhouses in the desert heat. They sweat like sponges being slowly wrung out.

Sonapur is a rubble-strewn patchwork of miles and miles of identical concrete buildings. Some 300,000 men live piled up here, in a place whose name in Hindi means "City of Gold". In the first camp I stop at – riven with the smell of sewage and sweat – the men huddle around, eager to tell someone, anyone, what is happening to them.

Sahinal Monir, a slim 24-year-old from the deltas of Bangladesh. "To get you here, they tell you Dubai is heaven. Then you get here and realise it is hell," he says. Four years ago, an employment agent arrived in Sahinal's village in Southern Bangladesh. He told the men of the village that there was a place where they could earn 40,000 takka a month (£400) just for working nine-to-five on construction projects. It was a place where they would be given great accommodation, great food, and treated well. All they had to do was pay an up-front fee of 220,000 takka (£2,300) for the work visa – a fee they'd pay off in the first six months, easy. So Sahinal sold his family land, and took out a loan from the local lender, to head to this paradise.

As soon as he arrived at Dubai airport, his passport was taken from him by his construction company. He has not seen it since. He was told brusquely that from now on he would be working 14-hour days in the desert heat – where western tourists are advised not to stay outside for even five minutes in summer, when it hits 55 degrees – for 500 dirhams a month (£90), less than a quarter of the wage he was promised. If you don't like it, the company told him, go home. "But how can I go home? You have my passport, and I have no money for the ticket," he said. "Well, then you'd better get to work," they replied.

Sahinal was in a panic. His family back home – his son, daughter, wife and parents – were waiting for money, excited that their boy had finally made it. But he was going to have to work for more than two years just to pay for the cost of getting here – and all to earn less than he did in Bangladesh.

He shows me his room. It is a tiny, poky, concrete cell with triple-decker bunk-beds, where he lives with 11 other men. All his belongings are piled onto his bunk: three shirts, a spare pair of trousers, and a cellphone. The room stinks, because the lavatories in the corner of the camp – holes in the ground – are backed up with excrement and clouds of black flies. There is no air conditioning or fans, so the heat is "unbearable. You cannot sleep. All you do is sweat and scratch all night." At the height of summer, people sleep on the floor, on the roof, anywhere where they can pray for a moment of breeze.

The water delivered to the camp in huge white containers isn't properly desalinated: it tastes of salt. "It makes us sick, but we have nothing else to drink," he says.

The work is "the worst in the world," he says. "You have to carry 50kg bricks and blocks of cement in the worst heat imaginable … This heat – it is like nothing else. You sweat so much you can't pee, not for days or weeks. It's like all the liquid comes out through your skin and you stink. You become dizzy and sick but you aren't allowed to stop, except for an hour in the afternoon. You know if you drop anything or slip, you could die. If you take time off sick, your wages are docked, and you are trapped here even longer."

He is currently working on the 67th floor of a shiny new tower, where he builds upwards, into the sky, into the heat. He doesn't know its name. In his four years here, he has never seen the Dubai of tourist-fame, except as he constructs it floor-by-floor.

Is he angry? He is quiet for a long time. "Here, nobody shows their anger. You can't. You get put in jail for a long time, then deported." Last year, some workers went on strike after they were not given their wages for four months. The Dubai police surrounded their camps with razor-wire and water-cannons and blasted them out and back to work.

The "ringleaders" were imprisoned. I try a different question: does Sohinal regret coming? All the men look down, awkwardly. "How can we think about that? We are trapped. If we start to think about regrets…" He lets the sentence trail off. Eventually, another worker breaks the silence by adding: "I miss my country, my family and my land. We can grow food in Bangladesh. Here, nothing grows. Just oil and buildings."

Since the recession hit, they say, the electricity has been cut off in dozens of the camps, and the men have not been paid for months. Their companies have disappeared with their passports and their pay. "We have been robbed of everything. Even if somehow we get back to Bangladesh, the loan sharks will demand we repay our loans immediately, and when we can't, we'll be sent to prison."

This is all supposed to be illegal. Employers are meant to pay on time, never take your passport, give you breaks in the heat – but I met nobody who said it happens. Not one. These men are conned into coming and trapped into staying, with the complicity of the Dubai authorities.

Sahinal could well die out here. A British man who used to work on construction projects told me: "There's a huge number of suicides in the camps and on the construction sites, but they're not reported. They're described as 'accidents'." Even then, their families aren't free: they simply inherit the debts. A Human Rights Watch study found there is a "cover-up of the true extent" of deaths from heat exhaustion, overwork and suicide, but the Indian consulate registered 971 deaths of their nationals in 2005 alone. After this figure was leaked, the consulates were told to stop counting.

At night, in the dusk, I sit in the camp with Sohinal and his friends as they scrape together what they have left to buy a cheap bottle of spirits. They down it in one ferocious gulp. "It helps you to feel numb", Sohinal says through a stinging throat. In the distance, the glistening Dubai skyline he built stands, oblivious.

Hurrah ! Prickly heat powder to the people

According to Nielsen, in Middle India, 43 of the 53 categories it tracks saw a growth (by value) in excess of 10% in the last quarter of 2011 (October-December) compared with the first. In smaller towns, the number of categories that saw this growth was an even higher 53. The fastest growing categories? Shampoos and conditioners, air fresheners, prickly heat powders, and cheese—not exactly the kind of products that would have been associated with small towns even five years ago.

For my lime sodas

CH3COOH + NaHCO3 → CH3COONa + H2O + CO2

Broadband Installation 2.0

2012-05-23_15

I did get it connected to a plug inside my house. Very fancy, I thought. However, there was a catch… Maybe I’ll just pass by the store and get some electrical tape later.

Sustenance for all or profit for some?

Barah Anaaj is a mixed farming system wherein farmers grow 12 foodgrains on the same piece of land. These 12 crops include ram dana (amaranthus), rajma (kidney bean), ragi (finger millet), mangjeer, green gram, buck wheat, lobia (black eyed pea), horse gram, a traditional soy called math and a few other crops.

Farmers in Uttarakhand explain that the reason their ancestors used to follow this practice is that in case one crop fails due to climatic conditions, the others can be harvested. This would ensure food for family and a farmer will not have to beg others for food. The system also ensured less pests and diseases. It also helped them fight drought. “Ragi is one of the crops that would survive even in harsh hot weather. Even one rainfall is enough for the seed to germinate,” farmers in the area say.
 

  Shanti Devi  
  “I still remember sowing 12 seeds with my mother. Even in droughts, we had enough food to eat”  
  —Shanti Devi from Panwadhokhan village in Almora  
 
 

“I still remember sowing 12 seeds with my mother. Even in droughts, we had enough food to eat,” says 60-year-old Shanti Devi from Panwadhokhan village in Almora district. It was a laborious work and we used to harvest one crop after another as their maturity times were different. After harvesting, the crop was dried in the sun and stored in huge mud utensils. She adds, “Women in our areas are always busy. Our day starts in darkness and ends in darkness. We get up at 4 am, finish household chores and rush to the farms by 7 am. By noon we come back to cook lunch and then winnow, clean and thresh the foodgrains.”

The practice of growing barah anaaj is generally followed in Kharif season because during Rabi season weather is generally cold and temperatures are very low. The seed sowing starts between mid-May and mid-June. Harvesting is done between mid-September and mid-October. 

But the irony is that this system is already on brink of disappearance in the state. The reason is popularisation of mono-farming, the practice of growing a single crop, to boost the income of farmers. The switch is for betterment of farmers according to government officials. But it leaves me in a dilemma. With climate change and uncertainty in weather conditions like erratic rainfall and long drought spells will this mono-culture help farmers? What is more important for Uttarakhand farmers’–sustenance or commercialisation?

While the 12 grain system described here might not have provided farmers with riches beyond what their family needs, it seemed to have provided at least for that. With mono cropping some will get rich, but on the way many would loose their land, migrate to the cities to become laborers or succumb to pesticide fueled infertile lands (as has happened elsewhere in India)…

We have to question – is the TV set for some and poverty for others as opposed to sustenance for all really the way forward?

If scale is what got us in this mess, is scale really what will get us out of it?

There’s a need, it seems, to acquire and expand. And it’s not just in our personal and material lives. Startups want to scale — that’s the most critical stage for them. How do we expand? How do we robotize it so we can speed up the process?

Nonprofits need to collect data for “impact” reports, illustrating how their ideas are not only innovative, but scalable.

It’s a numbers game to grow and, if possible, grow exponentially. That’s the sign of success — numerical growth.

Everything needs to have scale. Scalability is like sustainability now — another simple concept made far too abstract and complex.

Yet, what used to be sustainable can no longer be so because we live at roller coaster speeds. The small-town businesses struggle against the giants because they cannot “scale” or, perhaps, they don’t want to. Hence, as consumers, we have to decide do we go for the local “brand” or the corporate one? It’s one or the other, it seems.

So, should scalability really be such a big focus?

Sustainable lives are smaller lives. They’re lives that are in sync with the community, with the earth, with each other. Scalable lives require us to extend ourselves beyond ourselves.

In the social enterprise world, scale is plenty important for most actors. The impact investors, the foundations, the social entrepreneurs they’re all talking about how to scale, how to measure impact at scale, how to build the missing middle or how to select and supports those few enterprises that can grow. I am (and have been even more before) certainly ingrained with this mindset.

Now from a perspective of (environmental, at least) sustainability in many regards it was the advent of large scale production and consumption that got us into the mess we’re in right now. The disconnection between production and consumption of food, the carbon costly supply chains, the export of environmental degradation to the places which can manage it the least… all of it came on the back of rapidly scaling enterprises and global systems. It has elevated environmental and social challenges to a size of equal proportion meaning that we now no longer talk about the survival of individual communities but of everybody (well, except maybe for the 1% – they can afford to pay their way out of the mess).

One answer to these challenges have been touted as globally scalable social endeavors – be it the Gates Foundation or Grameen Bank. However, isn’t this just repeating the same process which got us in trouble in the first place?

The signs are there: much-touted microfinance have been shown at scale to have little effect on poverty (http://blog.linuskendall.com/microfinance-contribution-on-poverty-reductio) – in Andhra the scale of microfinance got so out of control that it contributed to a spate of suicide and eventually extreme government reaction.

Read the original article here:

http://www.vcstar.com/news/2012/apr/28/esha-chhabra-redefining-growth-in-a-mo…

Why thinking in products invites failure

One problem is that having a cheap, clean technology is no guarantee that it will be properly adopted. In a new NBER paper, economists Rema Hanna, Esther Duflo and Michael Greenstone note that there’s been very little evidence on whether these stoves work in the real world. They looked at a randomized control trial that handed out cleaner stoves to 15,000 people in Orissa, one of India’s poorest rural areas, and tracked the results over five years. The stoves were a bargain, costing about $12.50 a pop, and they used a chimney to keep smoke away from the users.

What Hanna and her colleagues found is that in the first year of using the stoves, households saw a serious drop in smoke inhalation. The cleaner cookstoves were working exactly as they did in the laboratory. But in the years after that, the stoves stopped working effectively. “We find no evidence of improvements in lung functioning or health and there is no change in fuel consumption (and presumably greenhouse gas emissions),” the authors write.

So what went wrong? Basically, none of the earlier evaluations of the clean cookstoves had taken into account how households in places like India would actually use the things. In early tests, there were trained technicians on hand at all times to inspect and repair the stoves. Not surprisingly, households used the stoves frequently. But when the technicians departed and the owners had to clean the chimneys themselves, they lost interest over time. People were spending too many hours conducting repairs and eventually just preferred to switch back to indoor cooking fires.

Without considering the larger system, especially when dealing with communities that are vulnerable (socially, environmentally, economically) you invite failure. Upper middle class designers create beautiful, smart, lab-tested products, successfully implement them during one year and then leave. What happens? Reality strikes.

Just as thinking in products is creating the basis for an environmental (and often economical) overconsumption hangover to come for the rich communities across the world (and that goes for the rich in Delhi as well as in New York), applying this thinking to poor communities is resulting in equally disappointing outcomes.

Maybe it’s time to stop thinking about selling this or that product to the poor and rich alike and instead think long and deep about what it is that we really need and how we design systems that provide for those needs. Sure it’s neither as easy to touch and feel, nor as sexy or cool as a fancy new gadget, and yes it might cause us to ask some uncomfortable questions about ourselves, our lives and how we might need to redistribute wealth in the world (hint: not by selling the poor gadgets so that they can become as awesomely wasteful as the rich).