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Addressing undernutrition in Indian children

Sep 10, 2010

Despite the country’s economic progress, millions of children in India suffer from hunger and malnutrition. A report released by the organisation Save the Children called Freedom from Hunger for Children Under Six, says that India needs to tackle these issues on war footing to prevent a humanitarian crisis.

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Freedom from  Hunger for Children Under Six

Publisher: Save the Children

Policy makers, donor agencies, non-governmental organisations, administrators and all other development sector workers have known the fact that millions of children in India are undernourished. This is not a new revelation, but what is shocking is that notwithstanding a wide range of interventions at the programmatic level since the early 1970s no breakthrough has been made on the malnutrition front. Where did we go wrong and why are we in this state even after 60 years of independence and 18 years of accelerated economic growth?

The fundamental issue that emerges is that the programmes that were designed to address hunger, malnutrition, abject poverty and a host of other survival issues have not been able to deliver. While there is recognition of the need for a multi-pronged approach, departmental turfs have been impossible to overcome. As a result, at the village level or in an urban slum, the people in charge of water and sanitation, public health, fair price shops, child nutrition, immunisation, treatment of illnesses and so on have not worked together. 

Local self-government institutions (Panchayats) have not had the mandate to bring all these schemes under one umbrella and monitor them in a holistic manner. Even when two departments do come together, like they have done for the Pulse Polio campaign, their engagement is limited to a specific activity.

High levels of systemic inefficiency to deliver and monitor further compound this problem. Recurrent instances of large-scale corruption, lack of accountability of local level workers and leakages make the situation impossible. 

Chronic malnutrition among adults and children has never become election issues and as a result the political elite seem to be oblivious to the magnitude of the problem. The hard reality is that development is big business but it is not taken seriously.

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