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Creating Sustainable Chemicals Growth In 2015

Business, Company Strategy, Economics, India, Innnovation, Sustainability
By John Richardson on 24-Dec-2014


By John Richardson

AS just about everyone, including me, obsesses about the more than 40% collapse in oil prices and what it means for the chemicals industry, here is another statistic for you: 58,000 newborns die in India every year because they come into this dysfunctional world with bacterial infections resistant to antibiotics.

The root causes of the problems are over-use of antibiotics, which doctors in many countries world have been warning about for decades, and that some 620 million Indians – half the population – have no access to toilets.

“India’s dreadful sanitation, uncontrolled use of antibiotics and overcrowding coupled with a complete lack of monitoring the problem has created a tsunami of antibiotic resistance,” said Dr Timothy Walsh, a professor of microbiology at Cardiff University, in this New York Times article.

Very young children are obviously at particular risk from this crisis, but as the NYT adds the problem effects adults in India as well.

“Bacteria spread easily in India, experts say, because half of Indians defecate outdoors, and much of the sewage generated by those who do use toilets is untreated,” writes the newspaper.

“As a result, Indians have among the highest rates of bacterial infections in the world and collectively take more antibiotics, which are sold over the counter here, than any other nationality.”

This is why Narendri Modi is, I think, potentially a visionary leader. I say potentially because he cannot afford to fail my “toilet test”.  

He must fulfill his pledge to give every Indian access to a toilet by 2019, otherwise India will never reach its real economic potential.

There is little point in having a “demographic dividend” if 58,000 children die because resistance to antibiotics out of a total quite shocking infant mortality rate of 800,000 per year (and, of course, and this separate related problem: Resistance to antibiotics does not respect borders. It has become a global problem).

Here are some other very disturbing statistics:

  • “The difference in average height between Indian and African children can be explained entirely by differing concentrations of open defecation,” said Dean Spears, an economist at the Delhi School of Economics, in another important NYT article.
  • A 2012 survey found that 42% of children in India were underweight, 58% were stunted by the age of two and only 8.1 million of out of 190 million children attend school.

Let us broaden this out: 2.5 billion people in the world still lack access to toilets, according to the World Health Organisation.  That’s down just 7% from the 2.7 billion people without toilets in 1990.

The chemicals industry can, and should, do more to help solve this problem by working with governments across the developing world to improve sanitation – by, for example, providing polyvinyl chloride sewerage and water pipes and water-treatment chemicals at prices that make sense for developing countries.

In the long term, they would, in effect, be planting the seeds of future economic growth. You cannot go to school and get the education that you need if you are constantly sick with diarrhoea, assuming, of course, that you are lucky enough to make it out of childhood. It is also the right thing to do.

The opportunity I have outlined above is a great example of how chemicals companies can help create a successful 2015 for their employees and the wider communities in which they operate.

And, in fact, I think that companies will have no choice to pursue this route to success, as the days of achieving success by gaming stock markets and quarterly results are coming to an end. Much more on this subject in the coming weeks and months.

On that note, a happy festive season and happy New Year to my readers. It isn’t going to be an easy New Year, but with the right long term strategies we can all succeed.

I will be back early next week with some more posts.