//Child malnutrition in India highest in the world: UN report

Child malnutrition in India highest in the world: UN report

NEW DELHI,

A United Nations report on hunger and malnutrition in India says millions of Indians still suffer from chronic undernourishment and severe micronutrient malnutrition, especially women and children and people belonging to lower castes.

The numbers of hungry people have increased in the past decade, with foodgrain-availability falling to 152 kg per capita, 23 kg less than in the 1990s.

The level of child malnutrition in India is among the highest in the world, higher even than some countries in sub-Saharan Africa, says the report ‘Extent of Chronic Hunger and Malnutrition in India’ by the UN’s special rapporteur on the right to food. The report was presented to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on September 22, 2006.

On child malnutrition in India the report says:

Nearly 2 million children die every year as a result of serious malnutrition and preventable diseases.
Nearly half suffer from moderate or severe malnutrition.
47% of children are underweight, and 46% stunted in their growth.
Malnutrition is most severe among children in rural areas, but it is also high in urban areas.
Nearly a third of children (30%) are born underweight, which means that their mothers too are underweight and undernourished. Malnutrition also increases during early childhood, particularly among girls.
Vitamin A deficiencies, particularly blindness, as well as iodine disorders have been recorded among children in hundreds of districts.

The report says that according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), more than 200 million Indians eat less than the daily minimum calorie requirement. But the Indian government’s own statistics suggest that many more — 53% of the population — are undernourished.

Other key findings of the report:

The poorest 30% of households eat less than 1,700 kilocalories per day, per person (the international minimum standard is 2,100 kilocalories per day), even though they spend 70% of their income on food.
More than 80% of women, infants and adolescent girls suffer from anaemia, and iron intake is estimated to be below 50% of the recommended daily requirement.
The hungry and malnourished are primarily children and adults living in rural areas and are dependent on agriculture, working as casual workers but also as sharecroppers and tenant or marginal farmers with less than 1 hectare of land.
Agricultural wages are very low and increasingly precarious; minimum wages are not always enforced and many people lack work during the agricultural lean season.
In some states, feudalistic patterns of land ownership persist, despite its legal abolition.
The benefits of economic growth since the 1990s have not been felt equally; the better-off western and southern states have been doing better than the poorer northern and eastern states.
The increasingly market-oriented economy has not helped get the poorest out of poverty, and has only benefited the middle and upper classes.
The focus on an export-oriented economy has seen a shift from subsistence to cash crops. Thus, the cultivation of grain, pulses and millet for household consumption has gone down. At the same time, cash crops require more expensive inputs in terms of seeds and fertiliser. This has pushed many farmers into debt resulting in a large number of farmer suicides.

Government interventions in this area have not been very successful. The Tenth Five-Year Plan (2002-2007) includes the prevention, detection and management of micronutrient malnutrition, but studies by the Indian Council of Medical Research have shown that national nutrition goals have not been met.

The Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) programme has a tendency to overstate the case, in monitoring levels of malnutrition. Other schemes such as the midday meal scheme have not been uniformly implemented across states. The shift to a target-based Public Distribution System (PDS) for foodgrain too has not been a success.

The report also casts doubts on the government’s claim that poverty fell across India, from 36% to 26% between 1993 and 2000. “There is considerable debate about whether poverty has actually fallen or whether the drop in poverty is the result of changes in the data collected. One explanation may be that the assumed cost of a minimum food basket no longer reflects the real cost of food in India,” says the report.

States where there is most poverty are Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka, especially in rural areas of eastern India (east Uttar Pradesh, north Bihar, north Bengal, coastal Orissa, Assam and Tripura) and central tribal India (Bundelkhand, Jharkhand, Vidarbha, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, western Orissa and Telengana).