India is the second most populous country in the world and one of the fastest growing, with its population of just over a billion set to double by the year 2031.
Nearly 75 percent of the population lives in rural areas and approximately 45 percent — 461 million peoples are living at or below the poverty level.
Due to relatively low labour costs the country is an attractive market for international investors, but recent declines in world trade have adversely affected industrial and economic growth.
Health services are stretched to the limit due to the widespread poverty, inadequate access to safe drinking water and frequent natural disasters. As a result, epidemics of both old and new diseases are common. Infant and maternal mortality rates are devastatingly high, with one woman dying every five minutes from a pregnancy-related cause.
Unique climatic conditions make India one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to natural disasters. Its large coastline is regularly exposed to violent cyclones. Some 50 million people are regularly affected by drought and resulting food shortages.
On January 26, 2001, one of the most devastating disasters in years occurred when a massive earthquake measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale hit India's western state of Gujarat leaving some 20,000 people dead, 166,000 injured and more than 15 million directly affected by the disaster.
The disaster spawned one of the largest relief operations in the history of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (Federation). The Indian Red Cross, working with the Federation and more than 40 national societies, including the Canadian Red Cross (CRC), moved quickly to provide immediate relief to earthquake victims. The CRC contributed close to $1.6 million to the initial appeal for relief aid, with the Canadian government contributing an additional $750,000. Over 300,000 people have received assistance.
The Indian Red Cross, with continued international support from its Red Cross partners, including the CRC, is now focused on a four-year national society development plan. This plan will prepare the IRCS for future disasters and address pressing needs not only in Gujarat, but other vulnerable areas throughout the country.
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