New Delhi: Public health, or the lack of it, is a more important determinant of malnutrition than poverty.  The latest government compilation on the incidence of hunger in India and related factors shows that states with the highest incidence of malnutrition  are also those where the lowest percentage of households  have access to toilet facilities and civic amenities like  drinking water. 

Madhya Pradesh, for example, with the highest undernourishment rate in the country at 60.3 per cent, has barely 27 per cent households that have access to toilets. In Jharkhand, which follows MP on the hunger index, with 59.2 per cent of the population malnutrition, has only 22 households out of every 100 that have toilets.
Bihar, Chhattisgarh and Orissa, also with high undernourishment rates of children at 58.4, 52.1 and 44 per cent, have very few households using toilets, the respective percentages being 25.2; 18.7 and 19.3. 

Poverty, assumed to have a direct relation with undernourishment, is not the single largest explanatory factor behind hunger. If it were so, as is generally thought, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and Assam, would not figure in the list of 17 most hungry states of India. But they do.
Punjab, with 8.3 per cent of its population below the poverty line, has as many as 27 per cent of its children below three years as underweight. As much as 36.2 per cent and 42 per cent of the population of Himachal and Haryana, respectively, is malnourished, while their poverty percentage stands at only 10 and 14, respectively. Same goes for AP, Gujarat and Assam where 15.8, 16.8 and 19.7 per cent of the population is below the poverty line but the undernourishment rate is 36.5 per cent, 47.4 cent and 40.4 per cent, respectively, for children below three years.

These revelations in the latest Economic Survey bring a clear directive to the Government of India to focus on policies that will mitigate concerns other than poverty. While the ability to access food items depends on household income and is currently being addressed by NREGS, there are other vital factors which are being ignored, states the Economic Survey. The survey further points outs that though poverty in India has declined significantly, malnutrition has remained "stubbornly high".

Terming malnutrition a "major threat to social and economic development of India",  the Survey says: “To have a larger impact beyond nutrition to other health outcomes, a  comprehensive programme to improve civic amenities of a public health nature is important if the divide between the rich and poor is to be bridged.  Access to public goods must be improved.”

Incidentally, the government has paid little heed to that advice, with the general budget for this year hiking allocations for nutrition by just Rs 0.10 crore -- from Rs 9.90 crore last year to Rs 10 crore this year.

Source: Tribune India, Tribune News Service
Date: July 15, 2009

Evangelical Fellowship Of India