1,000 child starvation deaths in Maharashtra: government study
Despite the fact that these figures have emerged from the government’s own study, the state’s health minister Digvijay Khanvilkar rules out a spurt in the number of child deaths due to malnutrition
More than 1,000 children from five tribal districts in Maharashtra have died from malnutrition in the space of two months, according to the shocking findings of a study recently released.
In fact, over 9,000 children have allegedly died of malnutrition-related causes in 15 districts in the state, in the last year. In spite of this, sources at the state secretariat and the state health ministry maintain that child malnutrition in the state was under control.
Statistics released on June 5 reveal that between 1,020-1,041 children, in the 0-6 age-group in Nandurbar, Amravati, Gadchiroli, Thane and Nasik districts, have died from starvation in the months of April and May 2004.
Conducted jointly by the state tribal welfare ministry and the family welfare ministry, between January and June 2004, to map the extent of child malnutrition in Maharashtra the survey reveals that, “97% of children in these districts suffer from malnutrition”. It says 29% of reported cases were “borderline” (in serious condition) and “not likely to survive”.
Some of the deaths occurred a mere 100 km from the thriving metropolis of Mumbai, India’s financial capital.
However, despite the fact that these figures have emerged from the government’s own study, Maharashtra’s health minister Digvijay Khanvilkar ruled out a spurt in the number of child deaths.
Sources in the state secretariat also maintain that cases of malnutrition among infants were under control. “Maharashtra’s infant mortality rate (IMR) is better than the national average of 64 infant deaths per 1,000 births. The state’s IMR dropped from 55 infant deaths per 1,000 births in 1994-1995 to 44 in 2003.”
Tribal rights activist Amanda Pawar disputes this saying: “If you consider the figures for the tribal districts, the IMR is as high as 68 deaths per 1,000 births.”
A top health official was quoted as saying that all deaths were not related to malnutrition. “There are a variety of factors, including low birth weight, jaundice, convulsions, hypothermia and premature delivery,” said the state’s director, health services, Dr Subhash Salunke. Salunke sought to downplay the shocking facts by noting that the number of children who had died constituted less than 2% of the tribal child population. He said the government was tackling the “socio-economic component” of the problem by treating adolescent anemia and other factors.
According to UNICEF figures, about 2.3 million children under the age of five die every year in India, half of them from malnutrition. A rough calculation shows that Dr Salunke’s figure for Maharashtra’s tribal children is roughly 17 times the national average.
In response to this defense, Amar Jesani, trustee of the Centre for Enquiry into Health and Allied Themes (CEHAT), said malnourished children were bound to be vulnerable to diseases like jaundice. The government does not accept malnutrition to be the cause of these deaths since it becomes a “political liability”. The government should treat the basic cause of these deaths instead of blaming them on communicable diseases which can be tackled in any way, he added.
President of the Association for Consumer Action on Safety and Health, Dr Arun Bal, put the blame squarely on the government. “There is enough evidence to prove these deaths are because of malnutrition. But the government is attributing the deaths to the effects of malnutrition, not to malnutrition per se.”
[I] Indo-Asian News Service [/I], July 6, 2004
[I]The Indian Express [/I], July 5, 2004
[I]NDTV [/I], July 5, 2004
NEWS IN NATIONAL PAPERS ON STARVATION
Mumbai: It’s called a ‘bamboo lance’ by locals – a makeshift ambulance in Nandurbar district in Maharashtra. For ailing villagers, it’s the only mode to reach the nearest primary health centre which is a good 25 kilometers away. Poor healthcare and child malnutrition continue to plague large parts of rural Maharashtra. And this sore sight was on display, even as UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi arrived in another part of the state to launch a child healthcare scheme under the Centre’s National Rural Health Mission (NRHM). Latest figures on child deaths due to malnutrition are shocking. In Nandurbar alone, 5,348 children have died in the last four years. Across the state 1, 17,000 children have died in the same period. According to the state’s own health report, 36 out of every 1000 children die before the age of five. In addition to Nandurbar, Chandrapur, Amravati, Gadchiroli and Thane – where Sonia launched her initiative – are the worst affected districts. The Centre spends Rs 1280 crores each year on child nutrition but on the ground, there has been little impact.
RIGHT TO FOOD
How many more deaths before we learn…?
With fresh reports of starvation deaths from rural Maharashtra, UP, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, the globalised myths of top heavy development are rapidly crumbling, reports Deeptiman Tiwary
In a country that feeds much of its food grains to rats in its overflowing food godowns, 10,000 die of hunger every day, as a survey has claimed. Increasing poverty and a development model totally divorced from the needs of the poor has driven the rural mass to the brink of starvation. While the government keeps denying this, reports after reports from India’s hinterland show an increase in the number of starvation deaths every year.
Recently, there have been a series of reports on hunger deaths in various places, including Nandurbar (Maharashtra), Sonebhadra (UP), Shivpuri (Madhya Pradesh), and Baran (Rajasthan), as it happened last year. In Nandurbar, a report “Maranatach He Jag Jagate” was recently prepared by “Punarvasan Sangharsh Samiti ”(PSS). This report is based on information obtained under the Right to Information Act, and a survey conducted by PSSin 22 villages of the Akkalkuva Block of Nandurbar district.
A huge discrepancy was found between the situation on the ground, revealed by the PSS survey, and government records. Of the 1,148 children surveyed by PSS in June this year, 104 were found to be malnourished, but government records show only 17 cases of malnourishment. Almost 75 percent of the women surveyed were seriously underweight. The report proves the cycle of under nutrition, which gets transmitted from weak mothers to undernourished children.
As renowned political scientist Prof C. Douglas Lummis put it during his lecture in Delhi recently, at the unveiling of a report on the state of food security in adivasi areas of India by Centre for Environment and Food Security (CEFS), the main reason behind increasing number of starvation deaths and the miserable state of food security among the poor is our skewed understanding of development. “The problem is we depend too much on this word called ‘development’ without understanding what it is. It is a very deceptive word. It is just a metaphor. It makes facts like poverty, starvation and forced labor forgettable.
2 lakh children die every year
Mumbai: industrial development has not translated into a better human development ratio for Maharashtra. According to a new survey, about 200,000 children – equivalent to the number of people killed in the bombing in Hiroshima and Nagasaki – die in the state every year.
The survey was conducted by 13 organizations in various pockets of the state under the guidance of Abhay Bang, a noted social worker who has been acknowledged for his work in the Gadchiroli district, an adivasi-dominated area bordering Andhra Pradesh.
The survey also showed that nearly 70 to 80 per cent cases of child mortality are not recorded by the official machinery. The survey, which was conducted under the auspices of the Maharashtra infant mortality study, covered 231 villages in 10 districts between 1998 and 2000. Each case of child mortality was recorded by trained volunteers after a panchanama (a recording of evidence in the presence of other citizens).
“Although the death of 500 children due to malnutrition in Nandurbar district attracted attention recently, the fact remains that 525 children die in the state every day,” noted the study.
The study also stated that whenever malnutrition deaths are reported in the media, politicians visit the site and announce certain measures. “however, such short-term measures do not help the issue,” the study said. “malnutrition is not the only cause of early deaths. Ignorance of parents, not feeding the child from day one, not taking preventive steps during dysentery are among the other causes,” it noted.
According to Nirmala Samant Prabhavalkar, chairperson of the state women’s commission who returned from Gadchiroli on Tuesday, “it is true that child mortality is increasing, and the problem cannot be solved only by providing medical care and nutrition. Proper education needs to be provided to the adivasis.
According to activists, there is an urgent need to understand that the right to life is among the fundamental rights of a child. “a child dying in the absence of medical help is probably the saddest incident in the world,” said an activist.