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How malnutrition is killing kids of a mineral-rich Odisha tribal village



  • In the absence of an anganwadi or school in Nagada, the kids are deprived of nutritious meals. And, with no fair-price shop, they are also left without the Re 1/kg rice given by the state government
  • Several Nagada children suffer from bronchial pneumonia, which often occurs among malnourished children
12 children die between March & June; a third of all kids malnourished

How malnutrition is killing kids of a mineral-rich Odisha tribal village

Bamnipal/Sukinda: Between March and June this year, at least 12 children died in Nagada village, located in the forests of Odisha’s Jajpur district. The underlying reason for their deaths was malnutrition, local medical authorities and community workers said.

The village population is solely of the Juang scheduled tribe, one of India’s ancient tribes, declared ‘particularly vulnerable’ by the government. For the past two months, a chicken pox epidemic has been raging in the village, with at least 35 kids displaying the typical blister-like rashes. G Naresh, an activist of Aspire, an NGO that works with school dropouts and never enrolled children in the region, told TOI that after they informed them, the local authorities made a few trips to distribute medicine. On the latest trip, doctors found several children suffering from bronchial pneumonia, which often occurs among malnourished children.

A survey of children aged between 5 and 12 years by Aspire in Nagada recently showed that out of 83 kids, about a third were suffering from malnutrition, as shown by their body mass index (BMI). Another 17% were just marginally ‘normal’.

But why does Nagada have rampant malnutrition and why do diseases go untreated? This question acquires significance because the village is located smack in the middle of one of the richest iron, chromium and manganese deposits in the world, stretching across Jajpur, Keonjhar and Sundergarh districts in Odisha, spilling over into Jharkhand to the west. So, how come time is standing still in Nagada? The village has a population of 275 people. It has no anganwadi centre, no school, no health sub-centre, and no fair-price shop. In fact, it is not even accessible by a motorable road. Technically, the government has the village covered under the anganwadi system by making it part of the Chingdipal anganwadi — but Chingdipal is five forested kilometres away. The anganwadi and ASHA (health) workers based there are supposed to look after Nagada villagers.

Adults and older children work as daily labourers in nearby mines under contractors,earning about Rs 3,000-4,000 per month on an average. The Juang grow some paddy and vegetables in small plots. They collect wild edible plants or hunt small fowls from the forest. In the absence of an anganwadi or school, children are deprived of the basic lifeline available to most poor children in the region — nutritious meals. And, in the absence of a fair-price shop, they are mostly deprived of another lifeline — the Re 1/kg rice provided by the state government.
What if there is a disease outbreak, like this year? The nearest government hospital is at Kuika, some 27km away. There is also a Tata Steelmanaged hospital 18km away in the Sukinda mines area. This is where nine of the seriously afflicted kids were taken by the district medical authorities after news of the chicken pox outbreak and child deaths broke out in June.

There are an estimated 10,000 members of the Juang tribe left, mostly living in the forested hills of Jajpur and adjoining Keonjhar. They have no rights over their beloved forest and they can hardly claim any right over the minerals. Should they be left to slowly perish of hunger and disease even as the country becomes a superpower?

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