One third of world’s undernourished children lives in India

Four-month-old Ujala weighs 1.5 kilograms, a third of what she should according to the World Health Organisation. Photo: Brendan EspositoNEW DELHI (Reuters) – India’s rapid economic growth has failed to cut alarmingly high malnutrition rates, leaving it “two generations” behind China, a leading expert said on Wednesday.  India is home to one-third of the world’s undernourished children, despite impressive economic progress with real GDP per capita growing by 3.95 percent annually from 1980 to 2005. Lawrence Haddad, director of the London-based Institute of Development Studies, told Reuters in an interview that India would not meet UN 2015 targets on improving nutrition.

“We expect economic growth and improved nutrition to go hand-in-hand but at the current rate India will not reach the Millennium Development Goal — to reduce the number of people suffering from hunger by 20 percent by 2015, by 2043,” he said.

All 192 U.N. member states have agreed to meet a string of developmental goals known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015, including reducing malnutrition, poverty, child mortality and fighting epidemics like HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria. Haddad said China — which had started off with malnutrition rates of around 40 percent in the 1990s — had already met the nutrition goals by cutting rates to about 15 percent, mainly through a more focused and innovative approach.

As a result, he said, China was “two generations ahead of India”, which was expected to meet this target in 34 years time.

“By failing to reach this target, the Indian government is condemning a further generation to brain damage, poorer education and early death that result from malnutrition,” he told Reuters AlertNet in an interview.   Haddad said China’s economic growth had been more broad-based than India’s, and as a result, the rewards of such growth had shown an improvement in many socio-economic indicators.

China also had a more focused approach to nutrition, more private sector involvement in interventions and provided more accountability to communities on services related to nutrition.
India is home to more than 230 million undernourished people, with around 46 percent of children suffering from malnourishment.

Experts say around 3,000 infants in India die every day from causes related to malnutrition such as weak immune systems.

By Nita Bhalla
(For more news on humanitarian issues, click on www.alertnet.org)

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