WASTING CHILDREN IS
AT WORST, HIGH RATE OF STUNTING
Falling of India from 55th position in 2014 to 102nd position in 2019 in Global Hunger Index (GHI) is a terrible global indictment of the miserable performance of Modi government on tackling incidents of hunger in the country. On GHI severity scale, the country scored 30.3, indicating serious level of hunger prevalent among Indians. Among the children born under Modi rule, 20.8 per cent are wasting (low weight for height), which is extremely high, and the highest rate for any country in this report. Its child stunting (low height for age) rate at 37.9 per cent is also categorized as very high in terms of its public health significance.
It’s very sad that just 9.6 percent of all children between 6 and 23 months of age are fed a minimum acceptable diet, a standard that combines minimum dietary diversity and minimum meal frequency, with different recommendations for breastfed and non-breastfed children, who need to receive milk or milk products as a substitute for breast milk. It is indicative of the failure of the programmes and policies of the government to ensure food security at household level.
The score of India was 32.0 long back in 2010 in GHI, which the present government was able to reduce to only 30.3, during 2014-18, indeed a very poor performance compared to the UPA government’s performance between 2005 and 2010. They had reduced the level of hunger from alarming 38.9 to 32 within five years.
With worsening economic and financial crisis after 2018, the score of the country on the severity scale of hunger might have been further deteriorated and acquired an alarming dimension, because joblessness is 45 years low and GDP has came down to 5 per cent, industrial production plummeted to 0.6 per cent, core sectors performing in the negative, and the crops on 14.5 lakh hectares are completely destroyed.
It should be noted that the composition of GHI includes child-undernutrition, child mortality, and inadequate food supply. Undernourishment comes under inadequate food supply, while stunting and wasting are part of child-undernutrition. India is scoring very badly in all these categories compared to most of the countries in the world. Out of 117 countries for which GHI is available, only 15 countries are worse than India, while 101 countries are performing better than our country.
To find out the substantial inequality of child stunting rate in India, the country was divided into 34 regions. The inequality range was found from 20 to 48 per cent in various regions averaging at about 38 per cent at the national level, indicating a severe crisis of inequality in stunting levels. Stunting of children up to such a level shows government’s apathy and neglect.
The data underlying the calculation of the GHI 2019, has put the proportion of undernourished in the population at 14.5 per cent during 2016-18, only a minor improvement from 17.5 per cent during 2009-11. UPA had reduced it from 22.2 per cent in 2004-05. It is also worth mentioning that percentage of undernourished had sharply risen from 18.2 per cent to 22.2 per cent during NDA rule from 1999-2004. During the period 2014-18, prevalence of wasting in children under five years was 20.8 per cent, stunting in children was 37.9 per cent, and under five child mortality rate was 3.9 per cent.
The key factors that contribute to stunting are poor infant and young child feeding practices, poor nutrition among women before and during pregnancy, and poor sanitation practices. A lower maternal body mass index was significantly associated with child wasting. Inadequate access to improved water sources and low family wealth were also associated with child wasting. A study has found that a reduction in poverty does not necessarily imply adequate access to improved water sources and sanitation, and therefore poverty alleviation policies may not be sufficient to reduce child wasting.
In South, East, and Southeast Asia, India is the third worst performing country after Timor-Leste and Afghanistan. Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka, all are faring better than India. Bangladesh and Nepal have made significant advances in child nutrition, and their experiences are instructive. Significant reduction in stunting of their children is attributed primarily to rising household wealth associated with pro-poor economic growth and gains in parental education, as well as health, sanitation, and demographic factors. The lesson for India is that success in this area can be achieved with robust economic growth and attention to “nutrition-sensitive” sectors such as education, sanitation, and health. Nepal’s remarkable reduction in child stunting is associated with, and likely attributable to, increased household assets (a proxy for household wealth), increased maternal education, improved sanitation, and implementation and use of health and nutrition programs, including antenatal and neonatal care, which India needs to imitate.