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“There are nearly 16 crore children in the country below the age of 6 years. In the years to come, these children will join our work-force as scientists, as farmers, as teachers, as data operators, as artisans, as service providers. Several of them will become social workers like many of you in this hall. The health of our economy and society lies in the health of this generation. We cannot hope for a healthy future for our country with a large number of malnourished children.
I have said earlier on a number of occasions and I repeat that the problem of malnutrition is a matter of national shame. Despite impressive growth in our GDP, the level of under-nutrition in the country is unacceptably high. We have also not succeeded in reducing this rate fast enough.
The first step in addressing the challenge of malnutrition lies in understanding it clearly. And it is for this reason that studies like the HUNGaMA survey are so important. I congratulate all those associated with the publication of this very valuable report. I would like to, in particular, compliment the Citizen’s Alliance against Malnutrition, the Nandi Foundation, Mahindra & Mahindra and other partners and supporters of the Alliance for carrying out this very significant survey. I understand that the surveyors have reached more than 73,000 households in 112 districts across 9 states. To measure the nutrition status of more than one lakh children and talk to 74,000 mothers is indeed an extraordinary accomplishment and I congratulate all those who are associated with this valuable survey.
The results of this survey are both worrying and encouraging. The survey reports high levels of malnutrition, but it also indicates that one child in five has reached an acceptable healthy weight during the last 7 years in 100 focus districts. This 20% decline in malnourishment in the last 7 years is better than the rate of decline reported in National Family Health Survey - 3. However, what concerns me and what must concern all enlightened citizens, is that 42% of our children are still underweight. This is an unacceptably high occurence.
We have always believed that a mother’s education level, the economic status of the family, the provision of sanitation and hygiene, the status of women in the family, breastfeeding and other good child-rearing practices do affect children’s nutrition. The HUNGaMA survey has broadly validated these hypotheses.
Though the ICDS continues to be our most important tool to fight malnutrition, we can no longer rely solely on it. We need to focus on districts where malnutrition levels are high and where conditions causing malnutrition prevail. Policy makers and programme implementers need to clearly understand many linkages -- between education and health, between sanitation and hygiene, between drinking water and nutrition – and then shape their responses accordingly.
These sectors can no longer work in isolation of each other. Health professionals cannot solely concentrate on curative care. Drinking water and sanitation providers cannot be oblivious to the positive externality of their actions. The school teacher needs to be aware of the nutritional needs of the adolescent girl. And above all, the Anganwadi workers should be aware of their contribution to nation-building by focusing on the care of our young citizens.
I chair a National Council on India’s Nutrition Challenges, which met a year ago and decided upon four things:
• To launch a strengthened and restructured ICDS,
• To start a multi-sectoral programme for 200 high-burden districts.
• To initiate a nationwide communication campaign against malnutrition.
• And to bring nutrition focus to key programmes of agricultural development, research and development in agriculture, the Public Distribution System, the mid-day-meals programme, drinking water, sanitation, health and the latest on the horizon is the Food Security Bill etc.
The Ministries concerned are taking necessary action to implement these four decisions. We hope to see positive outcomes of these efforts, but we need the cooperation of all stakeholders: the government, the civil society the entrepreneurs and the business community. All of them have to effectively work together to bring malnutrition below unacceptable levels.
Let me end by once again congratulating all those who have contributed to this report.
The HUNGaMA report is an excellent example of how people from diverse areas can and should come together for a noble cause. It is my sincere hope that the report will enhance our understanding of the challenge of malnutrition and will help shape better policy responses to it. I wish you all success in the noble endeavour that you are engaged in.”