The case of a severely undernourished three year old abandoned by her grandmother in a hospital brings up the spectre of malnutrition. One can never repeat enough the ignominious statistic that should make us hang our heads in shame: 5013 children die every day of malnutrition related causes. Every day, that is 3 children every minute. While we sip our morning tea 3 children would have died. Just take a minute to ponder about this. Each time I do I get goose bumps and my blood runs cold. Every single day: 5000 children that is more than 5 times the number of children in project why!
What prompted to right this post was a recent expose in Tehelka magazine entitled: The raja who stole from the poor. Do read it! It is nothing short of shocking. What was stolen is food meant for the poor. The loot was conservatively estimated at 200 000 crores. One crore is 10 million rupees! It is mind boggling to say the least. The spoils were shared by the usual nexus: politicians and bureaucrats. The grains meant for the poor are sold on the open market or smuggled to neighbouring countries. We all know corruption exists in our country and exists big time but the idea of food for the poor being hijacked in this manner is nothing short of galling. And yet even with the cat out of the bag we all know nothing is going to happen. Maybe a lull in nefarious activities till the dust settles and new ways of plundering are devised.
I guess for things to change it is civil society that will have to take up the cudgels and move from its present catatonia. But will we. The children who die are too remote for us to be truly touched. All the programmes meant to alleviate hunger are far too often hijacked. That is the sad reality in India. We have great programmes but poor implementation. Programmes become means to line pockets. Had the ICDS (integrated child development scheme) worked, no one below 30 would have been malnourished, but just visit any balwadis (creche) run under its ageis in the city and you will know that it has been set up not for the benefit of children but as a moneymaking and political gratification tool.
Let me once again share some statistics as I feel that it is only by repeating ad nauseum the stark reality that we may perhaps give up our immobility and act: 43.5% of children are underweight; 50% of children’s death are attributed to malnutrition, 46 per cent of all children below the age of three are too small for their age, 47 per cent are underweight and at least 16 per cent are wasted; anaemia affects 74 per cent of children under the age of three, more than 90 per cent of adolescent girls and 50 per cent of women; non availability of food seems to be the major cause of malnutrition. In India more than 5 million children die every year as a direct or indirect result of malnutrition. That translates into one child death every 10 seconds. ONE CHILD EVERY 10 SECONDS. Do we realise what this means. Ten seconds is the time taken to type 3 words, take a sip of tea, walk a few steps. And each time we do any of these one child dies quietly, just another statistic.
On the other side of the invisible wall dustbins and garbage dumps are filled with edible stuff, plates are unfinished in parties and eating places. And that is not all: every year food grain rots in the open for want of storage space. What is even sadder is that eve in slums food is thrown with impunity as if throwing food was an essential step in social mobility. I always shudder at the amount of food that lies on the streets after the regular religious feeding frenzies that dot the year.
Our Prime Minister called malnutrition deaths a national shame. I guess it was only lip service as nothing seems to have changed. 5000 children still die everyday. What will it take to change things?