`India is home to 1/3 of world’s malnourished children’
New Delhi’s stand on Kashmir hardens with every passing day. Kashmir is still its integral part notwithstanding the conflict that adversely affected its growth and development. However, if the disturbing data collected by some local and international NGO’s is any indicator, good sense must prevail on New Delhi before it is too late. The `shining’ India is home to 1/3 of world’s malnourished children.
During BJP rule, a rosy picture of otherwise diseased and malnourished India was projected. The gullible Indians started believing that India was really shining. If one wants to gauge the progress and prosperity of a particular society/country, he must look at its children. If the children are happy, the society is happy and if the children are not happy, the society cannot be happy. Notwithstanding `massive economic’ growth, India has failed to fight disease, malnutrition and intolerance.
A disturbing report about the miserable plight of children was published by the Times of India in February this year. The report reads: the budget for child schemes increased from 2.20% in 2003-2004 of the Union budget to 5.35% in 2008-2009. But between 1998-1999 and 2005-2006, the number of children suffering from malnutrition went up from 15.5% to 19.1%, while the number of kids under five with anemia rose from 74.2% to 79.2%.
Press trust of India (PTI) quoting a report by the British-based Institute of Development Studies (IDS) flashed news on September 17
“Despite India’s recent economic boom, at least 46% of its children up to the age of 3 still suffer from malnutrition making the country home to a third of the world’s malnourished children.”
Noting that the country is an “economic powerhouse but a nutritional weakling”, the report that incorporated papers by more than 20 India analysts, said “at least 46% of children up to the age of 3 in India still suffer from malnutrition.”
“It’s the contrast between India’s fantastic economic growth and its persistent malnutrition which is so shocking,” Lawrence Haddad, director of the IDS said.
Experts have warned India of a crisis if appropriate measures were not taken immediately. India may well be ‘shining’ to the world at large but when it comes to its children’s health the picture is far from glossy. The recently released National Family Health Survey (NFHS-3), the third pan-India survey conducted since 1992 (covering 200,000 people from 15-54 years), highlights some sobering facts on this front.
According to the survey, conducted between December 2005 and August 2006, a whopping 45.9 per cent of India’s under-three kids are underweight, 39 per cent are stunted, 20 per cent severely malnourished, 80 per cent anemic while infant mortality hovers at 67 per 1,000. More than 6,000 Indian children below five years die everyday due to malnourishment or lack of basic micronutrients like Vitamin A, iron, iodine, zinc or folic acid. Overall, India hosts 57 million – or more than a third – of the world’s 146 million undernourished children.
Shockingly, even sub-Saharan Africa has a better record of child malnourishment at 30 per cent while China records eight per cent and Pakistan 37 per cent. A massive 440 million people languish at the bottom of the economic pyramid in India and about 500,000 children are born deformed each year due to vitamin/mineral deficiencies. India’s child sex ratio is still a nettlesome 927 girls for every 1,000 boys while even some of the poor African countries (Nigeria at 965 and Ghana at 964) fare better – as does neighboring Pakistan with 958.
Intriguingly, the number of undernourished children below three years has ratcheted up in some Indian states; and the state’s per capita income is not directly proportionate to the nourishment children receive.
In Manipur, for instance – where the per capita income is Rs.12, 230 (up from Rs.10, 300 in the 1980s) – there is 28 per cent malnutrition, while Gujarat (with a per capita income of Rs.21, 276) has 45 per cent. Similarly, Orissa’s malnourishment figure is 50 per cent with a per capita income of Rs.10,103 while Maharashtra at Rs.24,736 has malnutrition levels of 51 per cent. Kerala’s per capita income is Rs.21,310 and that of Karnataka Rs.18,324 while their malnutrition levels are 27 per cent and 44 per cent respectively.
The New York Times in its March 12 issue has an interesting piece on the high child malnutrition rates in India. “Even after a decade of galloping economic growth, child malnutrition rates are worse here than in many sub-Saharan African countries, and they stand out as a paradox in a proud democracy.
China, that other Asian economic powerhouse, sharply reduced child malnutrition, and now just 7 percent of its children under 5 are underweight, a critical gauge of malnutrition. In India, by contrast, despite robust growth and good government intentions, the comparable number is 42.5 percent. Malnutrition makes children more prone to illness and stunts physical and intellectual growth for a lifetime.
Where does the problem lie? The children form a substantive third of total India’s population but their share in the union budget if a piffling 4.86%. Even out of this, nearly 70 per cent is marked for education while health manages a modest 11.43 per cent. Small wonder, malnourishment, illiteracy, foeticide and child labor are rampant across India. Says Chennai-based development scientist Dr Sree Sridharan: “Despite a spurt in India’s GDP from 3.6 per cent in the 1970s to nine per cent in 2006, proportionate spending on children has gone up only marginally from 2.11 per cent in 2002 to 4.86 per cent. If this isn’t skewed development, what is?”
Experts reiterate that child malnutrition is not only responsible for 22 per cent of India’s disease burden – and for 50 per cent of the 2.3 million child deaths in India — but is also a serious economic hazard. More than 2 billion people worldwide suffer from vitamin/mineral deficiencies of which 30 per cent live in India. According to economists, these deficiencies will cost the Indian economy a whopping Rs.2,770,000 million (US$1=Rs44 ) over the next 10 years in lost human potential.
So the children in India suffer for want of funds. While children die for want of food, the Indian state spends lavishly on holding Kashmir against the will of the people. India has problems with China. It has insurgency in scores of states. But, these are minor problems. It is Kashmir that punches holes in Indian budget. If Kashmir is settled amicably, in accordance with the wishes of its people, India will have enough funds to fight malnutrition. Kashmir has been devastated by the conflict but India has also paid a heavy prize. If `shining’ India is diseased, it is because of Kashmir.