New Delhi/Nagpur: “Shining India” which our Government claims is the “fastest grwoing economy in the world” continues to have serious levels of widespread hunger. It has been ranked a lowly 97 among 118 developing countries for which the Global Hunger Index (GHI) was calculated this year.
The GHI is calculated by taking into account four key parameters: shares of undernourished population, wasted and stunted children aged under 5, and infant mortality rate of the same age group.
Countries worse than India include extremely poor African countries such as Niger, Chad, Ethiopia and Sierra Leone besides two of India’s neighbours: Afghanistan and Pakistan. Other neighbours Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal and China are all ranked above India.
This year, for the first time, two measures of child hunger -wasting and stunting -have been used to give a more complete picture. Wasting refers to low weight in relation to a child’s height, reflecting acute undernutrition.Stunting refers to the deficiency in height in relation to age, reflecting chronic undernutrition.
The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) makes the annual calculations of GHI. Basing its readings on the most recent data, the 2016 GHI for India was derived from the fact that an estimated 15% population is undernourished -lacking in adequate food intake, both in quantity and quality .
The share of under-5 children who are `wasted’ is about 15% while the share of children who are `stunted’ is a staggering 39%. This reflects widespread and chronic lack of balanced food. The under-5 mortality rate is 4.8% in India, partially reflecting the fatal synergy of inadequate nutrition and unhealthy environments.
The sad fact for us in Maharashtra, considered a ‘progressive and developed’ state of the country is that these dismal figures are rising here too.
In 2016, as many as 83,068 children in Maharashtra below the age of six have been categorized as severely underweight, a rise of 4,595 cases over the previous year.
The districts reporting the highest rise in severely underweight children include Nanded, Beed and Hingoli of Marathwada region which was grappling with a severe drought between 2014 and 2015-16. Malnutrition also increased in Wardha, Nagpur,, Buldhana and Chandrapur of Vidarbha region which was partially affected by the drought. Jalgaon in north Maharashtra, which faced both unseasonal rains and a water crisis, also reported a substantial rise in severely underweight children.
Drought-hit Nanded saw the sharpest increase, with the number of severely underweight children rising by 116% in one year. In Wardha district, the number rose by 109.5%. Though Wardha was not drought affected, it is among the districts in Vidarbha prone to farmer suicides.
“This is a serious situation given the fact that there is a three-fold increase in the mortality of severely malnourished children. The rise in malnutrition also seems to be correlated to the drought situation,” said Dr Abhijit More from the public health advocacy group Jan Arogya Abhiyan.
The Petitioner NGO had approached Supreme court over the issue.Swaraj Abhiyan’s advocate Prashant Bhushan said that 115 districts of 21 states have suffered from a bad drought and yet the government has done nothing to declare these districts as drought hit.
So riled up was the Supreme Court of India over the situation in the state that it castigated the state government in these words:
“You don’t bother when children die. Your state is not taking any interest and advocates are also not taking any instructions from the government. Do you think we are wasting our time here?” asked the bench that was headed Justice Madan B Lokur, viciously attacking the state government for its irresponsibility. This was after 500 to 600 tribal children, including those of Melghat, are supposed to have died of malnutrition this year.
“We have seen news reports that talk about children having died of malnutrition in Maharashtra. You don’t bother when people die because you think it is a small figure in a country with such a large population,” stated the bench, which also had Justice N V Ramana as one of its jury members.