(Image source: Unicef)
After a recent grocery shopping experience I was wondering looking at the bill, how Indians from the lower economic strata were managing to buy food. My grocery bill has gone up since the birth of my baby daughter and I am sure members of the poorer sections of the society would have definitely felt the pinch if they had children.
As I check the economic figures for November, food inflation in India stands at 11.8 %. And this has resulted in a steep rise in cases of malnutrition in India.
The World Bank estimates that India is ranked 2nd in the world of the number of children suffering from malnutrition, after Bangladesh (in 1998), where 47% of the children exhibit a degree of malnutrition. The prevalence of underweight children in India is among the highest in the world, and is nearly double that of Sub-Saharan Africa with dire consequences for mobility, mortality, productivity and economic growth. The UN estimates that 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. Every day, 1,000 Indian children die because of diarrhoea alone. According to the 1991 census of India, it has around 150 million children, constituting 17.5% of India’s population, who are below the age of 6 years. (Source Wikipedia.org)
Now these findings have some significance. Image being next to only Bangladesh, whom I am sure many Indians would consider a developing nation. But our own statistic is not very far behind. While many of our celebrities and film personalities focus on tackling HIV/AIDS, the real killer in India are diseases like Tuberculosis, which kills more people every year than the cumulative deaths due to HIV since 1984.
The main factor behind all this is the lack of proper nutrition. Most of us have read the balanced diet chart which includes carbohydrates, proteins, minerals, vitamins, fats and water. Indian diets for vast majority of children clearly lack that and this forms the root of the problem. Even if the children survive childhood, they would continue to suffer as they grow into adults leading to more diseases in adult life.
What can be done to reverse the situation?
Well the government has been tackling malnutrition at a national level and local and state governments are tackling the issue at the regional level. One of the best ways to fight malnutrition is to combine it with the large child development programs launched by the government. Former Tamilnadu chief minister MG Ramachandran had launched the mid day meal program to encourage children to come to school. This meal can be used to secure the right nutrients for the children especially proteins, Minerals and Vitamins. I think combining school and education is an excellent way of tackling the problem.
Secondly the government might have to step in to tackle food inflation. Many fruits are just beyond the reach of the middle class leave alone the poor. I cannot imagine while we have tones and tones of produce rotting in Food Corporation of India godowns, there are children dying due to malnutrition in the country. The problem is more in the rural areas than urban and more among girls than boys.
Finally as Individuals let us contribute to institutions those are trying to combat this issue. A good example is the Akshay Patra foundation. The Foundation feeds nearly 1.3 million children every day with part subsidies from the Government and the rest of the cost of every meal is generated from individuals, philanthropists and corporate entities. A contribution of Rs 675 is enough to feed a child for a year. The foundation also provides the break up cost for the same and is exempt from income tax for the Indian donors. Though I have been donating to the foundation, I personally am not a member there and this is just one of the many groups in India.
Finally I would like to conclude by saying a nation is only as strong as the health of its children, so let’s think about this very basic issue for once and come up with innovative solutions. I would like to hear from you as well, How do we tackle malnutrition?