Jharkhand – a sad example of India’s malnutrition problem

(This is a synopsis of a column article originally written in Hindi by Alka Arya for the Dainik Jagran newspaper)

Jharkhand state in eastern India is one of the world’s richest mineral reserves, yet the irony is that 43 percent of its people live below the poverty line. More than half its children below the age of five are malnourished and 12 percent of these are severely malnourished. Nearly half the children below the age of three are stunted as a result.

The World Health Organisation estimates that more than 40 percent of the malnourished children in the developing world are in India – making it home to double the number of malnourished children in sub-Saharan Africa.

Malnutrition does not affect just the children and their families; the state pays a heavy price too in the form of lower social and economic development. Stunted children, for instance, live only up to the age of 22 on average. Their intellectual capacity is diminished, as a result of which they don’t fare well in studies. It is estimated that Jharkhand’s GDP is lowered by 6 percent because of the problem of malnutrition. Jharkhand is India’s second-worst affected state, after Madhya Pradesh. In order to raise awareness of the problem, UNICEF has started radio campaigns in Hindi, Bengali as well as several tribal languages. The state’s chief minister announced recently that 10,000 ‘nutrition friends’ will be appointed, whose job will be to focus only on nutrition. This will be in addition to nutrition efforts already underway in ‘Anganwadis’ (rural women and child health centres).

India has been grappling with the issue of malnutrition in several states. Nutrition Missions are already being organised in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and Rajasthan, under which children are given free mid-day meals in Anganwadis and government-run schools. Madhya Pradesh, which is India’s worst-faring state in nutrition, has seen civil society come forward to take responsibility to provide succour to malnourished children. In Hoshangabad district for instance, all the malnourished children are under the care of someone or the other – whether they are doctors, lawyers, commissioners, government representatives, bureaucrats and even regular private citizens.

But India needs a really strong commitment to tackle its malnutrition problem if it wants to make a reality of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Make In India’ and ‘Skill India’ dream projects. The bottom line is that people need to be healthy. After all, their intellectual capability and productivity is directly correlated to the investment in health.