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malnutrition

It’s time to end malnutrition in South Asia

Idah Z. Pswarayi-Riddihough's picture
Chronic malnutrition remains prevalent across the region as many poor South Asians cannot afford nutritious foods or don’t have the relevant information or education to make smart dietary choices.
Chronic malnutrition remains prevalent across South Asia as many poor South Asians cannot afford nutritious foods or don’t have the relevant information or education to make smart dietary choices.

In Sri Lanka, as in the rest of South Asia, improving agricultural production has long been a priority to achieve food security. 

But growing more crops has hardly lessened the plight of malnutrition. 

Chronic malnutrition remains prevalent across the region as many poor South Asians cannot afford nutritious foods or don’t have the relevant information or education to make smart dietary choices. 
And children and the poorest are particularly at risk.

South Asia is home to about 62 million of the world’s 155 million children considered as stunted-- or too short for their age. 

And more than half of the world’s 52 million children identified as wasted—or too thin for their height—live in South Asia. 

Moderate-to-severe stunting rates ranged from 17 percent in Sri Lanka in 2016 to a high 45 percent in Pakistan in 2012–13, with rates above 30 percent for most countries in the region.

Moderate-to-severe wasting rates ranged from 2 percent in Bhutan in 2015 to 21 percent in India in 2015–16, with rates above 10 percent for most countries in the region. 

The social and economic cost of malnutrition is substantial, linked to impaired cognitive development, chronic disease, and lower future earnings.

And sadly, much remains to be done to ensure children across South Asia can access the nutritious foods they need to live healthy lives. 

Yes, how many deaths will it take till we know…

Maitreyi Bordia Das's picture

…that too many children have died?

I adapt this from Dylan’s famous 1962 lyrics, but it is nowhere more true than for Adivasis or tribal peoples (called Scheduled Tribes) in India.

Come monsoon, the Indian media is rife with stories of child deaths in tribal areas, frequently reported as “malnutrition deaths”. Kalahandi district in Orissa for instance, had been a metaphor for starvation due to press reports dating back to the 1980s. Melghat area in Maharashtra has similarly surfaced in the press especially during the monsoon when migrant Adivasis return to their villages and to empty food stocks in the home. This is followed by public outrage, sometimes by public interest litigation and often a haggling over numbers.

We recently published a working paper that looks at child mortality among India’s adivasis – the starkest manifestation of their deprivation. We find that an average Indian child has a 25 percent lower likelihood of dying under the age of five compared to an adivasi child. In rural areas, where the majority of adivasi children live, they made up about 11 percent of all births but 23 percent of all deaths in the five years preceding the National Family Heath Survey 2005. While there has been progress in child survival over the years, and much greater vigilance, which often leads to these stories surfacing in the media at all, the fact remains that children in tribal areas are at much greater risk of dying than those in other areas.