This Article is From Jun 23, 2009

Madhya Pradesh: Epicentre of hunger

Khargone: It's emerging as the epicentre of hunger in India. Sixty per cent of children under 5 in Madhya Pradesh are malnourished. A medical emergency is building up in districts like Khargone, Jhabua and Khandwa with several children dying due to lack of food.  Even nutrition rehabilitation centres that have been put up are failing to make a difference.

  • 6 million children under 5 are malnourished in MP
  • 1.3 million children are severely malnourished 
  • 1 million are moderately malnourished
In Wow village, Jhabua district - at 9 months, Jhalu survives only on his mother's milk. Mother of 8 and malnourished herself, Getu is able to feed him just twice or thrice a day. The rest of the family lives just as frugally, resulting in acute malnutrition.

It's the story of every Adivasi and Dalit family in Jhabua, Khargone and Khandwa in Madhya Pradesh. At least three children have died of malnutrition in the last few weeks and things are only getting worse.

Crop has failed this year, there is no grain left from last year and once the monsoon arrives, there will be no work.

In Bilidoj village, Madi's 1 year-old is severely underweight. An empty kitchen and 4 other children, she can't go to the nutrition rehabilitation centre or NRC for medical help.

"What is going to happen to the others? Who will cook for them and look after them?" asks Madi.

NRCs, meant for severely malnourished children, are failing to make a difference. There are too many obstacles on the ground.

At this centre, the specially made milk powder for malnourished children has run out. The staff is forced to serve local dairy milk, a breach of WHO rules.

Many children return over and over again, because even though they improve here, once they go back, lack of food pushes them back to the brink.

Not every vulnerable child reaches a NRC because Anganwadi workers are unable to identify them properly.

At Domkheda village, out of 100 children, only 9 have reached the Anganwadi. The worker assures us all children are fine.

But the weighing scale doesn't work, nor are births registered, making it impossible to know the status of each child.

There is growing consensus that the government must reach children closer home. Communities need to be involved to ensure food security.

July to September are the hardest months. The real problem will begin once the rains arrive. With no food and no work, severely malnourished children are likely to fall ill with diarrhoea and respiratory diseases. Last year, 62 children died of malnutrition in Khandwa. This year, a medical emergency is impending. Unless the government intervenes, many lives could be lost to hunger.