Bihar's record in tackling malnutrition and hunger has been particularly worrying, with NGO's alleging as many as 100 deaths over the last three years.
NDTV visited Gaya district, just 125 kilometres from the state capital, to find that its not just children who are bearing the brunt of chronic malnutrition and hunger. Here's the report:
On October 9 2009, 55-year-old widow Murti Devi gave up her fight against years of malnutrition and hunger. When she died, there was not a single grain in her house.
Murti Devi had food coupons with her, but got no rations since July 2008. She had a National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) job card since 2007, but not a single day of work was given to her till the time she died.
Last year was particularly bad for the people of Gaya. A severe drought in the region meant that only about eight per cent of the annual average paddy crop was harvested.
And so Murti Devi could not find work on the farms either, which in the past was enough to provide at least one meal a day.
"A relief of Rs 1,500 was given for her last rites in addition to Rs 10,000 for the family," said Sohan Kumar, also a resident of Kharauna village.
But the administration denies that she died due to malnutrition or hunger.
"We investigated these cases and found that the deaths happened due to diseases and not any other reason, said District Magistrate Sanjay Kumar.
Seventy kilometres away, in the Bongia village, Purnia Devi has still not got over the death of three of her grandchildren in 2007, which she says happened due to severe malnutrition.
Since then, the mid day meal scheme at the local school has been started; but the Anganwadi, meant to provide supplementary nutrition to pregnant women and small children, doesn't run.
"We have fired many Anganwadi workers in the past when we found them not working. I am telling you that we need to streamline our systems further," said the District Magistrate.
Clearly, the government s efforts are not reflecting in these remote villages, where women and children in particular are bearing the brunt of chronic malnutrition, and hunger.
3rd of world’s undernourished kids in India’
• Undernourished: 48%
• Underweight: 47%
• Stunting (too short): 46%
• Wasting (dangerously thin): 16%
(All children under 5 years)
It seems the India’s economic growth is not rubbing off on its development indicators.
According to a report released by Unicef today, India has the most number of undernourished children in the world. It says around 57 million children under the age of five are suffering from under nutrition. Shockingly, this is about 48 per cent of all children in this age group in the country.
Not just this, Unicef says India is not doing enough to tide over the problem. The report castigates India’s efforts to reach the Millennium Development Goals as ‘insufficient’
Elaborating on the status of child malnutrition in Bihar, Mr. Bijaya Rajbhandari, State Representative, UNICEF emphasised, “Bihar has the third highest number of malnourished children in India. In Bihar, the percentage of underweight children went up from 54.3 per cent to 58.4 per cent between the period 1999 and 2005. It is estimated that 8.33 per cent or 9,74,610 children in Bihar are severely and acutely malnourished and are at the highest risk of dying.
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