Date: 16 July 2012

‘Mumbai has maximum number of malnourished kids’

Mumbai has more undernourished children under the age of five than the whole of urban Maharashtra. Experts say malnutrition is prevalent among  the slum dwellers, migrant labours and the city’s minority communities.

A recent report on malnutrition, titled ‘India’s nutrition crisis: A challenge of putting nutrition back in our food’ by Narotam Sekhasaria Foundation, an NGO, reveals that more than half of the country’s upcoming generation— children under four years of age — face a debilitating future because of malnutrition.

Questions raised in December 2011 in the state assembly revealed that 65 infants die daily in the state, with 13,683 deaths having occured between January to September 2011 alone.

The authors, a panel of national experts, warned that malnutrition in children can lead to a permanent reduction in their future learning capacity and an increased likelihood for future poverty, with negative impact on the entire economy. “Malnutrition is not a residue of development. It is a structural product of the present model of growth,” the report stated.

Tracing the root causes of malnutrition to India’s developmental policies of exploiting natural resources and minerals, forests and rivers on an industrial scale, the report claimed that this was pushing communities into poverty, turning them into ecological refugees and urban migrants.

Criticising the government’s age-old free feeding programmes like the Mid Day Meal Scheme and the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), the experts stated that in Maharashtra, the department of women and child welfare prescribed Rs2 per day for each child till 2009.

Severely malnourished children, pregnant and lactating mothers and adolescent girls were prescribed Rs2.70 and Rs 2.30 per day before April 2009, after which the Supreme Court ordered that expenditure be increased to Rs 4 and Rs 5, respectively. A cereal-based diet takes no account of the special needs of children or mothers. ICDS only offers one meal of rice and dal everyday, without variation, the report stated. To resolve this issue, the government put forth the idea of synthetically produced, single nutrient-fortified food and ready-to-eat packaged food.

The report recommended that the government involve community women in preparing rations from locally available ingredients instead of ready-to-eat packaged food.