By Roshni Balaji:
Malnutrition seems to have a firm grasp on the future of India. It is a matter of grave concern that many children are dying due to malnutrition. According to the World Bank, India is ranked second in the world in terms of the number of children suffering from malnutrition, after Bangladesh. It’s astounding to note that the prevalence of underweight children in India is among the highest in the world, and is nearly double that of Sub-Saharan Africa. This predicament has gone up the creek in a few states. According to Karnataka’s Health and Family Welfare Department, between June and September of 2012, 358 infants died of malnutrition in the district of Raichur. Even today stunted children form 19 percent of our population.
Tribal children, who constitute a big chunk of India’s malnutritioned, are helpless when it comes to accessing government nutrition programmes. Whether due to development projects or the constant tussle between Maoists and security forces, tribals are forced to shift their homes. Due to growing displacement the tribal communities fail to grab the advantage of nutritional support, whether it is through anganwadis or the mid-day meals in schools, thus putting the lives of millions of children at risk. According to UN, 2.1 million Indian children die before reaching the age of 5 every year — four every minute — mostly from preventable illnesses such as diarrhoea, typhoid, malaria, measles and pneumonia.
However, child malnutrition is closely linked with maternal malnutrition. Poverty, high percentage of female illiteracy, child marriages, and discrimination has lead to physically weak pregnant women. Lactating mothers are unable to feed their infants. The impact of this lasts for a lifetime as it affects the child’s immunity, physical and mental development as well as their competency to work and play. The problem is striking the privileged lot too. There is a misconception that being skinny is fashionable and children are starving themselves to avoid putting on weight. Therefore it is imperative to create more awareness on the issue of eating healthy, wholesome food.
The Integrated Child Development Scheme is not serving the purpose, as several vested interests are viewing malnutrition as an opportunity to mint money. Meanwhile, politicians, contractors and other officials have emerged as stumbling blocks in its effective implementation. Instead of providing children with fresh fruits and vegetables and hot well-cooked meals in anganwadis and schools, state governments are signing contracts worth crores of rupees for the supply of food packets of unreliable nutritional value. Children receive fried packaged snacks produced by multinational corporations despite the glorious fact that the food production in India is a whooping 252 million tonnes.
Though there has been a 50 percent increase in GDP starting from the year 1991, more than one third of the world’s malnourished children live in India. It is ironical that a country which boasts of a ‘scorching’ economic growth rate is unable or rather unwilling to provide its children with nutritious food. Money alone is not enough. The need of the hour is a shared vision and clearer policies.
The quick-fix should start right from the grass-root level. The administrative machinery has to identify and reach out to the poor families. Efficient and transparent project management, continuous monitoring, greater accountability, and a focus on long-term sustainability is the key.