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Thursday, 12 January 2012 17:31
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It’s not hunger, it’s limited government facilities in poor areas


The HUNGaMA survey report has caused the PM to again say that malnutrition in India is a matter of national shame. This report confirms to the narrative popularised by a long tradition of hunger reports that say India’s malnourishment problem is worse than sub-Saharan Africa—never mind better life expectancy at birth, better maternal mortality, bountiful food programmes and better economic growth. But a key problem with this tradition has been its age-weight standards, set by WHO. As Arvind Panagariya has been arguing, the reference samples don’t account for Indian children being genetically smaller on average. He has noted that the WHO trend suggests that nearly all Indians born in the 1950s or before are stunted! (See www.financialexpress.com/news/column-essential-reading-for-sonia-gandhi/896282). But beyond reporting alarmist malnourishment numbers, the HUNGaMA report does a robust job of providing policy-pertinent data links between this matter and education, sanitation, clean drinking water etc.

Following data collection across 3,360 villages in 9 states between October 2010-February 2011, it compares 100 districts located in 6 states—Bihar, Jharkhand, MP, Orissa, Rajasthan and UP—that lag in development indicators (100FD) to the best-performing district from each of these states (6BDF) and also to 6 districts— 2 each—from the 3 best-performing states of India (6BD). Around one-fifth of India’s children are thus represented.

Mother’s education matters: Of all mothers interviewed in 100FD, 66.3% had never been to school as compared to 4.3% in 6BD. Sanitation matters: Only 19% mothers in 100FD said that their family members wash their hands with soap after using the toilet as compared to 49.3% in 6BD, although almost 100% mothers across the 3 district clusters said they had soap at home. So sanitation is also interlinked with education. Better health facilities create better health outcomes: Preference for government health centres was 16.5% in 100FD as compared to 30.5% in 6BDF and 45.2% in 6BD. This points to there not being enough primary healthcare centres, and manned by doctors, in the poor districts. It also explains why 43.1% of 100FD mothers went to untrained health providers. Similarly, although availability of Anganwadi centres was near 100% in all 3 clusters, advanced services like health and nutrition counselling were much more commonly accessed in the best-performing districts, where the Anganwadi centres were also better equipped in terms of both human and other resources. In short, a useful pointer to government on how to course-correct its social welfare programme.



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