Nearly 45 lakh children, mostly tribals, suffer from stunted growth in Madhya Pradesh, with researchers claiming that the government is to blame for this as it has blocked access of tribals to forests, says an analysis by Down To Earth magazine.
Forests were traditionally the main source of nutritious sustenance – including meat -- for tribals, who extract close to 150 different varieties of food from them, said a statement by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).
According to the study, decades of hunger have led to this stunting which is also being seen in other tribal-dominated states in India.
“Today’s public distribution system (PDS) and cheap food rations do provide food security, but nutritional security is still a distant dream for them. With the forests out of bounds for the tribals, their primary source of nutrition has dried up,” the analysis says.
It found stunting, which reflects chronic under-nutrition, was also very high among tribal children in the state. An alarming 50% of children in Alirajpur, Dhar, Dindori and Jhabua – the four districts where tribals constitute 50% of the population – were found stunted.
According to international non-profit organization, Save the Children, Madhya Pradesh tops the nation in the number of malnourished children under the age of six.
In 2015, 60% of children in the state were malnourished, while 74 % were anaemic.
Experts are alarmed about the high incidence of stunting in the state and believe this is the result of several years of nutritional insults – poor diet, chronic hunger and infection.
While the condition of underweight malnourished children can be reversed with good food and care, such a turnaround is not possible for those who are afflicted by stunting.
MP-based activist Amulya Nidhi from the Jan Swasthya Abhiyan, who has been working in the health sector, agreed with the study.
“There are many factors responsible for this stunting in tribal children. In many pockets, various development projects -- be it dams or nuclear plants -- have displaced the tribals from their land. Many tribals are yet to get the rights on their traditional forests, due to which their access to nutritive products has been severely affected,” he said.
Richard Mahapatra, managing editor of Down To Earth, said, “Official policies, which have barred our tribal population from the forests seem to be responsible for severe malnutrition and stunting.”
MALNUTRITION IN MP
National Family Health Survey-4
42% of children under 5 years are stunted (height for age),
25.8% children are wasted (weight for height)
42.8% of children are underweight (weight for age).
68.9% of children, aged 6-59 months, are anaemic.
MP’s sex ratio is 9 31, which is below the national average of 940 – according to the census, 2011.
This year, MP again topped the country in infant mortality rate (IMR) for the 12th successive time.
MP has the highest IMR with 52 deaths of children less than one year of age per 1,000 live births, according to latest sample registration system baseline survey, 2014.