India, 'the Silent Emergency'
Cynically it is unfortunate that the "hunger
" problem in India is not primarily one of mass starvation which would
attract international attention but rather one of widespread state of malnutrition
which has been so common for years that it leaves the International community
indifferent. Even today, when India has made notable progress in many field
of economic growth, 53 % of the children are moderately and severely malnourished
and close to 2 million children die every year before completing one year.
And many of these deaths would be avoidable should enough food and nutrition/health
education made available to the poorest household.
Contrary to many emergency situations,
there is no dispute here whether we need to provide a 1900 or 2100 kcal
food basket. The poorest 30% of Indian household i.e. 300 million people
still have food consumption levels well below acceptable level with only
1680 kcalories per day per capita available in the best scenario. When
you can provide a supplement of 600 kcal for a whole family per day, it
is already a remarkable achievement.
The condition of the scheduled caste and
tribal families in backward areas appears far worse than some of the conditions
seen in refugee camps. An Indian rural child from these families eats only
twice a day at the best time of the year suffers from several episodes
of diarrhea per year and is not being given adequate care. No doubt that
in these areas there is also a very high infant mortality rate. It is a
very sad picture that next to the splendors that India can offer, million
of children are prone to suffer from low potential of physical and mental
capacity because they did not receive the proper nutrition they had the
right to have at the start of their life. No future for them and worse
no hope. Money and assistance is just not available for them. Programmes
to assist women and children in remote areas (which unfortunately still
fall under the label of "development project") have seen their resource
drastically cut in the recent years mainly due to the fact that donors
are allocating their money to highly visible and political emergency operations.
Having worked on the "emergency" side for
6 years, I feel now frustrated about this dichotomy of so called emergency
situation and development where you have so much difficulty in raising
interest of the donors and even awareness and support from your own headquarter!
The need is enormous in some of the poorest states of India but also the
potential of having effective intervention is there with highly motivated
community and competent staff. In giving some hope you could do so much
for mothers and children in India whom are responsive and understand the
need to fight to change their situation. But unless, there is no drastic
response from the International Community, children in India will continue
to suffer and die silently.
Taken from Field Exchange Issue 4, June 1998