A Four-Course Meal
Only a couple of years back, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had called persisting high levels of malnutrition amongst young Indians a “national shame”. Alas, despite that admission from the summit of governance, ground-level inaction and an ill-coordinated approach dog every step of this challenge. That the PM’s council on nutrition is slated to hold its first meeting in November—two years after it was set up—is a telling indicator.
The rush to meet is perhaps driven by two recent reports—by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and Save the Children—that reiterate India’s abysmal 22 per cent malnutrition levels. The numbers are alarming, considering that 70 per cent of children below five and over 55 per cent women under 49 are anaemic. As Rajiv Tandon of Save the Children underlines, “The relationship between malnutrition and below-five-years’ death is very strong.” Every year, of 1.83 million children who die below age five, around 6,00,000 deaths are due to malnutrition-related causes.
Whatever the reasons—there are many—it’s strange that the government remains obsessed with GDP growth and less about the improvement of child nutrition, which lags behind less developed countries like Ghana, Vietnam or Bangladesh. “Globally, 10 per cent growth in income sees 5 per cent improvement in nutrition. But in India, when income goes up 10 per cent, that improvement is just 1-2 per cent. The reason: the ICDS (Integrated Child Development Services) programme is inadequate as it misses out on the crucial 0-2 age group,” says Lawrence Haddad, nutrition expert on South Asia and director of the UK-based Institute of Development Studies.
Development experts like N.C. Saxena feel the main culprit is the lack of any radical updation in the ICDS programme launched in 1975. The main thrust on food security and mid-day meals has been on quantity, not quality. Also, social infrastructure has not kept pace with the growth in population and rural migration. This is the reason why, according to officials from the ministries of health and women and child development (WCD), there has been no real improvement despite the innovative schemes for adolescent girls, young mothers and children across the country.
Differences in approach also hamper coordination. While health secretary Sujata Rao says unless “malnutrition is tackled no medicine or vaccination will have impact”, Planning Commission member Syeda S. Hameed feels nutrition intervention will bear fruit only if health, sanitation and drinking water issues are tackled simultaneously.
To get a fuller picture, the WCD ministry has asked the Nutrition Foundation of India and the National Institute of Health and Family Welfare to include nutrition parameters in the annual health survey in 300 districts. This will be later extended to all the districts and “help us take a more broad-based and prompt action,” say officials. Simultaneously, a pilot scheme for empowering girls in the 16-18 age group will be launched next month in 200 districts, while an incentive pilot scheme in 52 districts for pregnant women and young mothers in the unorganised sector has been finalised by the Planning Commission.
Experts are pinning hopes on the PM’s council for more resources and direction. Governance and accountability are also needed on the ground. Or else, the next surveys will reflect the same, scandalous “national shame”.
We at Outlookindia.com welcome feedback and your comments, including scathing criticism
1. Scathing, passionate, even angry critiques are welcome, but please do not indulge in abuse and invective. Our Primary concern is to keep the debate civil. We urge our users to try and express their disagreements without being disagreeable. Personal attacks are not welcome. No ad hominem please.
2. Please do not post the same message again and again in the same or different threads
3. Please keep your responses confined to the subject matter of the article you are responding to. Please note that our comments section is not a general free-for-all but for feedback to articles/blogs posted on the site
4. Our endeavour is to keep these forums unmoderated and unexpurgated. But if any of the above three conditions are violated, we reserve the right to delete any comment that we deem objectionable and also to withdraw posting privileges from the abuser. Please also note that hate-speech is punishable by law and in extreme circumstances, we may be forced to take legal action by tracing the IP addresses of the poster.
5. If someone is being abusive or personal, or generally being a troll or a flame-baiter, please do not descend to their level. The best response to such posters is to ignore them and send us a message at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT
6. Please do not copy and paste copyrighted material. If you do think that an article elsewhere has relevance to the point you wish to make, please only quote what is considered fair-use and provide a link to the article under question.
7. There is no particular outlookindia.com line on any subject. The views expressed in our opinion section are those of the author concerned and not that of all of outlookindia.com or all its authors.
8. Please also note that you are solely responsible for the comments posted by you on the site. The comments could be deleted or edited entirely at our discretion if we find them objectionable. However, the mere fact of their existence on our site does not mean that we necessarily approve of their contents. In short, the onus of responsibility for the comments remains solely with the authors thereof. Outlookindia.com or any of its group publications, may, however, retains the right to publish any of these comments, with or without editing, in any medium whatsoever. It is therefore in your own interest to be careful before posting.
9.Outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for how any search engine -- such as Google, Bing etc -- caches or displays these comments. Please note that you are solely responsible for posting these comments and it is a privilege being granted to our registered users which can be withdrawn in case of abuse. To reiterate:
a. Comments once posted can only be deleted at the discretion of outlookindia.com
b. The comments reflect the views of the authors and not of outlookindia.com
c. outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for the way search engines cache or display these comments
d. Please therefore take due caution before you post any comments as your words could potentially be used against you
10. We have an online thread for our comments policy:
You are welcome to post your suggestions here or in case you have a specific issue, to directly email us at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT