As a teenager I watched the broadcast of Neil Armstrong walking on the moon in 1969 with wonder. Yesterday I found the images of India’s satellite blasting off to Mars almost equally as inspiring.
It may seem strange for an anti-poverty agency to applaud the Indian government’s commitment to space exploration but as Sandeep Chachra, ActionAid’s Director in India has said, investing in space technology is an important part of the aspirations for an economy such as India.
India was the first country ActionAid ever worked in and it remains the country where we do most work – last year we spent £3.2 million helping some of its most vulnerable communities build better lives for themselves. So ActionAid knows better than most that India is home to half the world’s poor.
We believe that it is vital that the immediate needs of India’s millions of poor people are met, especially the most vulnerable so that people get proper access to food, healthcare and education.
Yet equally we believe that developing a sophisticated technological base in a country with this level of poverty is not a simplistic contradiction.
Harnessing the advances that science and technology bring
What is important is to harness the advances that science and technology bring for the greater good and to use those advances to overcome ingrained poverty and build hope for future generations.
And investing in technology has already reaped rich dividends for the poorest.
Space technology has revolutionised India’s mobile phone industry for example, bringing banking services to even the poorest people. It’s also been instrumental in searching for new underground water sources and helping to track extreme weather events such as recent super cyclone Phailin, enabling the government to evacuate hundreds of thousands of people and save countless lives.
So we shouldn’t dismiss technological advancement out of hand. As an example, it has been estimated that for every dollar the US spent on their space programme they got $45 back from diversifying industries and new technologies.
Ultimately, investing in new industries – including satellite technology - is as essential for development now as it was for the tiger economies in the Far East in the 1950s.