Thursday, September 23, 2010

Nearly half of our young children are chronically malnourished!

Sixty and a half million or 48 per cent of all Indian children below five years of age are chronically malnourished. This situation is even worse than that obtaining in the sub-Sahara Africa. In its drive to reverse the situation, the government runs nurseries, called Aanganwadis, in the villages where a teacher and an assistant look after the under-five children of their area of operation, also serving each of them meals with 500 calories. But the work involved is too much for the teacher and her assistant; as a consequence the Aanganwadis have not been able to make the intended impact on malnutrition in the target group. There is, therefore, a demand that one more assistant be provided to each Aanganwadi. However, the government is unable to accede to it because it is not finding the necessary funds for that.

If there is one Aanganwadi for every 1,000 of India's rural population of 800 million, providing one extra assistant to each Aanganwadi would mean employing 800,000 more assistants. Annual expenses on each of them, including salary and travelling allowance, would not be more than Rs.48,000 or US$1,000, and for all such extra assistants US$800 million. But these extra hands, absolutely essential to make Aanganwadis effective, are not being recruited. It seems that the Indian government which has just splurged US$16 billion (or Rs.70,000 crore) on the inconsequential Commonwealth Games is not willing to spend, rather invest, the one twentieth of this amount every year on its children below five years of age. After all, it is a matter of priorities!

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