Two of Odisha’s Aspirational Districts lag behind in Nutrition: Niti Ayog Survey
In spite of above average registrations in its Anganwadi centres by pregnant and lactating mothers as well as children aged 7 months to 6 years, the off take of supplementary nutrition in at least two backward districts of Odisha continues to be unsatisfactory.
A survey carried out by Delhi-based IDInsight, a global advisory and data analytics firm, on behalf of Niti Aayog in two of Odisha’s 10 Aspirational Districts, found that weak distribution of Take Home Ration (THR) as well as lack of awareness among its beneficiaries remained a strong barrier in the path of nutrition. HT has seen the summary of the report that the Niti Aayog shared with the state government recently
527 pregnant and lactating women and 966 children in the age group of 7 months to 6 years were surveyed in the Aspirational Districts of Kalahandi and Rayagada between January and March 2019 to assess the supplementary nutrition programme.
The Aspirational District programme of Modi government aims at transforming 115 backward districts from 28 states through convergence of central and state schemes while measuring their progress and ranking states.
Ration is given at Anganwadi centres under the supplementary nutrition programme of Integrated Child Development Scheme to improve health and nutrition in children, pregnant and lactating mothers as well as adolescent girls. Each beneficiary is given nutritional support for 300 days a year that includes morning snacks, hot cooked meals and Take Home Rations.
Under THR, chhatua (a powdered mixture of groundnut, sugar, wheat and Bengal gram), Suji/Ragi/maize halwa, groundnut/raasi jaggery laddoo/chikki, besan/Ragi laddoo and boiled eggs are given to the beneficiaries on first and 5th day of every month.
The dry rations are packed by local women self-help groups in transparent polythene or aluminium packets and are supposed to last a month.
Officials said the survey was done to asses if the goals of Poshan Abhiyaan - a multi-ministerial convergence mission with the vision to ensure attainment of malnutrition free India by 2022 –were being met through Anganwadi service delivery system.
In case of pregnant women, both Kalahandi and Rayagada districts exceeded the average of 78% registrations at the Anganwadi centers. While Kalahandi reported 99.57 per cent registration, Rayagada reported more than 98 per cent. However, the number of days that a pregnant mother received THR was 15.27 for Kalahandi and 18.55 for Rayagada, lower than the government recommended norm of 25 days a month.
In case of children in the age group of 7 months and 3 years, Kalahandi reported 90 per cent registration and Rayagada had over 95 per cent registration. But the the number of days that such children received THR was 10.85 for Kalahandi and 17.80 for Rayagada, lower than the government recommended norm of 21 days a month. Similarly for morning snacks, Kalahandi reported 22.86 per cent and Rayagada 22.7 per cent distribution while for hot-cooked meals, the distribution was reported at 34.09 per cent for Kalahandi and 44.26 per cent for Rayagada.
The survey found that there was distinct lack of awareness about THR among the beneficiaries.
“The weak distribution of THR, lack of awareness among beneficiaries regarding THR and possible systematic barriers in nutrition-seeking behaviour need to be addressed in near future,” Union women and child development secretary Ravindra Panwar wrote in a letter to Odisha government recently pointing out that it may be pertinent to study the logistics, service delivery, supply chain, communications outreach systems for the supplementary nutrition programme to identify the reasons for the gap.
The district nutrition profile of Kalahandi says at least 36.6 per cent children under the age of 5 years are stunted while the number of anemic children among the same group is at a whopping 67 per cent. The percentage of underweight women in the district is 34.2.
Rayagada is no better. At least 43.5 per cent of its children under the age of 5 years are stunted while the percentage of anemic children is about 50 per cent. The percentage of underweight women in the district was 33. Both the districts have a high percentage of SC/ST population.
Nutrition specialist and country director of Project Concern International, Basant Kar said stunting makes a child vulnerable to several life-threatening diseases like diarrhoea. “The long-term consequences of stunting can even be worse as it would affect the process of brain development in a stunted child. Women who are anemic in their reproductive age are prone to infection and their children would have poor immunity,” said Kar.
Kar said chronically-undernourished children are not just short in physical stature, but the development of their brains — their “grey-matter infrastructure”—is also stunted. “One per cent loss in adult height due to stunting impacts 1.4% loss in productivity. Stunting reduces IQ scores by 5-11 points. Children affected receive lower grades in school. Children with low birth weight are 2.6 times less likely to go on to higher education or graduate. Stunted children will earn at least 10 percent less in lifetime earnings.”
However, Kalahandi, where the survey was carried out, District Collector Dr Harshad Gavali said he was surprised by the survey results. “We don’t know how the survey was done. No one contacted us. To say that there is less off take of THR by the beneficiaries due to lack of awareness would be untrue,” he said. Senior officials in the state women and child development department refused to comment on the survey results.
Incidentally, Odisha and West Bengal are the only two states that are yet to implement the Poshan Abhiyan, the flagship programme of the women and child development ministry. Last month Union women and child development minister Smriti Irani told the Parliament that Rs 51.72 crore was released as central share for Odisha in 2017-18 and 2018-19, however the utilisation was zero.