Tuesday, March 17, 2009

India Grows and So Does Child Hunger

While the US struggles with its economy and financial woes, India continues to grow and remain somewhat fiscally stable. In the midst of this growth, it is easy to forget about the various problems that continue to plague this democracy. The issue of malnutrition is covered in a recent NYTimes article.
Small, sick, listless children have long been India’s scourge — “a national shame,” in the words of its prime minister, Manmohan Singh. But even after a decade of galloping economic growth, child malnutrition rates are worse here than in many sub-Saharan African countries, and they stand out as a paradox in a proud democracy.
I was shocked to read that while China reduced child malnutrition to 7% (of its children under 5 years old are underweight), India's comparable number was 42.5%!
There are no simple explanations. Economists and public health experts say stubborn malnutrition rates point to a central failing in this democracy of the poor. Amartya Sen, the Nobel prize-winning economist, lamented that hunger was not enough of a political priority here. India’s public expenditure on health remains low, and in some places, financing for child nutrition programs remains unspent.
India does run the largest child feeding program in the world, however it is inadequately designed with poor infrastructure and has barely made a dent in the ranks of sick children in the past 10 years.
[M]ost experts agree that providing adequate nutrition to pregnant women and children under 2 years old is crucial — and the Indian program has not homed in on them adequately. Nor has it succeeded in sufficiently changing child feeding and hygiene practices. Many women here remain in ill health and are ill fed; they are prone to giving birth to low-weight babies and tend not to be aware of how best to feed them.
The article reports that while hunger persists in destitute states across India, the more "serious" rates of hunger exist in states of great economic growth.

Hat tip to KS for the article.

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