India in 21st century is being haunted by the problem of widespread hunger and malnutrition. International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) has put India at any abysmal 110th rank on the Global Hunger Index (GHI) in a group of 119 countries, which means that there are only nine countries where the problem of hunger is much more graver than India. In terms of fight against hunger, even North Korea, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are doing much better. As per the National Family Health Survey (NFHS)-4 (2015-16), 35.7 per cent children below five years are underweight, 38.4 per cent are stunted and 21 per cent are wasted in the country. In Madhya Pradesh 42.8 per cent children below five years are underweight, 42 per cent are stunted and 25.8 per cent are wasted
The indicator ‘children under five years who are underweight’ is one of the composite indicators for child malnutrition. As per NFHS-4 data, the national average of children under 5 years who are underweight has reduced from 42.5 per cent as reported in NFHS-3 (2005-06) to 35.7 per cent in NFHS-4 (2015-16) and in the state of Madhya Pradesh during the same period, underweight children under 5 years has gone down from 60 per cent (NFHS-3) (2005-06) to 42.8 per cent (NFHS-4). Further in Madhya Pradesh the districts Barwani and Sheopur have reported the highest (55 per cent) of children under five years who are underweight during 2015-16 (NFHS-4).
NFHS provides the data on nutrition indicators at national and state level. As per NFHS-3, (2005-06), 42.5 per cent children under 5 years are underweight, 48 per cent are stunted, 19.8 per cent are wasted and 40.4 per cent children under 3 years are underweight; 44.9 per cent are stunted and 22.9 per cent are wasted. The rate of malnutrition has declined from 42.7 per cent in 1998-99 (NFHS-2) to 40.4 per cent in 2005-06 (NFHS-3) for children below 3 years of age.
GHI prepared by IFPRI is based on three equal weight indicators which are undernourishment, the proportion of undernourished people as a percentage of the population; child underweight, that is, the proportion of children younger than age five who are under weight and child mortality, that is, the mortality rate of children younger than age five. As per the report the data on these indicators comes from Food Agriculture Organization (FAO), World Health Organisation (WHO), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), various national demographic and health Surveys, and IFPRI estimates. Needless to say that India has lagged behind in improving its GHI score despite strong economic growth along with the statement that the GHI data is based partly on outdated data.
In India, the approach in dealing with the nutrition challenges has been two pronged: First is the multi-sectoral approach for accelerated action on the determinants of malnutrition in targeting nutrition in schemes or programmes of all the sectors. The second approach is the direct and specific interventions targeted towards the vulnerable groups such as children below six years, adolescent girls, pregnant and lactating mothers. No doubt the Central government has accorded high priority to the issue of malnutrition especially among children and women including young girls and is implementing several schemes and programmes through state governments and UT Administrations.
The schemes and programmes include the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), National Rural Health Mission (NRHM), Mid-Day Meal Scheme, Rajiv Gandhi Scheme for Empowerment of Adolescent Girls (RGSEAG), namely, SABLA, Indira Gandhi Matritva SahyogYojna (IGMSY) as direct targeted interventions. Besides, indirect multi-sectoral interventions include Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS), National Horticulture Mission, National Food Security Mission, Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan and National Rural Drinking Water Programme. It is all these schemes have potential to address one or other aspect of nutrition, but their impact is rarely audited in a transparent manner.
The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) adopted during the UN Millennium Summit, 2000 by 189 countries including India consisted of eight goals which were sought to be achieved during the period 1990 to 2015. The first MDG was regarding eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, which had two targets, namely, halve, between 1990 and 2015, the percentage of population below the National Poverty Line, and halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger. The indicator for measuring target two is the prevalence of underweight children under three years of age. Thus, from the estimated 52 per cent in 1990, the proportion of underweight children below three years was required to be reduced to 26 per cent by 2015. The data speak for themselves. We as a nation have failed in taking our fight agianst startvation to its logical conclusion. Time to wake up!
(The writer is an independent commentator on socio-political and economic issues. Views expressed are his personal)