For all the progress India has made, its track record in reducing malnourishment is pathetic. The country accounts for nearly 40 per cent of the world’s malnourished children. Reports that as many as 125 children have died of severe malnutrition across Madhya Pradesh should shock a nation that has, of late, been rolling up its sleeves to play Big Power on the world stage. Sixty-four Bhil children have perished in the eastern district of Satna alone since April, according to a petition filed by an NGO in the Supreme Court. This is a damning indictment of the state government that has miserably failed to discharge its fundamental responsibilities to its people.
As if all of this weren’t bad enough, the local authorities are in a state of denial, attributing these avoidable deaths to diseases like malaria and encephalitis. The basic point is that if some children have died due to such causes, it is precisely because their immune systems have been destroyed by severe malnutrition. To address the challenge of malnutrition, the state needs to be far more active and take up a multi-dimensional approach. For starters, there is a need to step up nutrition intervention schemes on a war footing, as the problem affects in varying degrees, 33,000 children in Madhya Pradesh, according to the National Family Health Survey.
To be sure, there are challenges in reaching the affected villages that are remote. But these can easily be met by taking the help of NGOs. Ineffective delivery has bedevilled such efforts so far. Despite a number of nutrition intervention schemes, the incidence of undernourishment among rural children in India is alarmingly high at 47.7 per cent. Multiple factors influence the child’s nutritional well-being, including household income, health and educational status of mothers.
To eradicate malnutrition, the state also needs to ensure safe drinking water, beef up its primary healthcare facilities and ensure environmental hygiene. All this is still shockingly lacking in India 2008.