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Fresh Water, HIV Biggest of India's Six Challenges: Chidambaram

New Delhi: Admitting that India faced six major risks - HIV/AIDS and depleting freshwater supplies to name just two - Finance Minister P. Chidambaram declared at the India// Economic Summit here Sunday there was no need for alarm as solutions were on hand to overcome the challenges.

"Every risk is an opportunity for innovation and change. It gives the impetus for technological change, an opportunity to move ahead at a swifter pace," Chidambaram contended before the packed audience.

"Many of the six risks are manageable with technologies we already possesses. The others can be managed by technologies we can acquire over the next 10-20 years," he added.

The six risks as enunciated by the industry lobby Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and Global Risk Network, an arm of the World Economic Forum, are:

* Loss of freshwater (quantity and quality) - Is India running out of freshwater services?

* Oil peaks - How vulnerable is India to an oil price shock? What oil price level would risk derailing India's growth?

* Economic impact of demographics - India is facing a demographic dividend. Might it turn into a demographic liability?

* Globalisation versus protectionism - What happens if there is a backlash or retrenchment from globalisation?

* Climate change, the environment and challenges to Indian growth - Can India balance the complex trade-offs between the environment and growth?

* HIV/AIDS and TB - What will it take to combat the spread of HIV and TB? What if India fails?

Of these, Chidambaram termed the spread of HIV as the "greatest risk" as it had the "frightening propensity to get out of hand".

"We have been ducking the issue. We have to be more open on the issue of safe sex. Once we take this head on, we will be able to contain the spread of HIV/AIDS," he added.

Accusing the previous Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP ) government of being in a "denial mode" on the issue, the minister contended he had focused on this in his first budget speech after the Congress came to power in 2004 and that he would again do so while presenting the budget for 2007-08 in February.

Terming the water issue as a "grave challenge", Chidambaram advocated tapping India's 7,000-km coastline for desalinating water, as also for recycling water and more efficient irrigation practices.

As for energy supplies, he contended that India would have to "depend on the world" till it made additional discoveries at home.

On the issue of globalisation, he did not foresee any "backlash", saying democracy was a "great benefit and weapon against protectionism.

On climate change, Chidambaram's contention was that "we don't contribute as much" as the developed world.

Supporting India's refusal to sign the Kyoto Protocol, he compared the per capita consumptions of this country and the US to buttress his argument.

"The world should ask us to sign the protocol only when they give us access to resources like clean coal and uranium. Only then will we sign, which I cannot see happening before 2012," the minister maintained.

Speaking on the demographic issue, the minister described this as "an opportunity" as India's number of young people will continue to grow till 2040 and possibly 2050 before it begins to decline.

Then he added a rider: "We have to provide them adequate education to ensure they get meaningful work and contribute to India's economic growth."

Source-IANS
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