Thursday, February 18, 2021

Bureaucracy and Hunger in India

 Malnutrition in children has risen across India in recent years. Most Indian women are anaemic and poor women, especially so. And since undernourished mothers give birth to undernourished babies, experts say the worsening rate of malnutrition could be a result of women struggling to access nutrition benefits.

India's latest National Family Health Survey (NFHS), which shows that children in several states are more undernourished now than they were five years ago, is based on data collected in 2019-20. The survey was conducted in only 22 states before the onset of the pandemic - so experts fear the results will be much worse in the remaining states, where the survey began after the lockdown ended.

In Dahod, a rural and largely tribal district in India's western state of Gujarat, has seen a steep rise in the proportion of undernourished children compared with 2015-16, when the last survey was conducted. Stunting among children under five in Dahodis up from 44% to 55%. And the proportion of severely underweight children in the district has risen from 7.8% to 13.4%.

Many families in Dahod migrate to cities to eke out a better living. But that also means being left out of massive government schemes that are mostly delivered at local level - so benefits aren't easily transferred across districts or states. This is despite the fact that there are three different schemes offering maternity and nutrition benefits to women in Gujarat.

Experts say "exclusion" is one of the main reasons for rising malnutrition levels across India. While migration creates geographical exclusion, bureaucracy and its need for documentation creates a form of social and economic exclusion.

Aadhar, the biometric government ID scheme, is a must-have for accessing nearly every social welfare programme in India. But a system that was meant to serve the poor more swiftly has often been accused of failing them. The poor have complained that linking the ID to their bank accounts or updating it with new information - such as when they migrate for work - involves multiple trips to government offices that they cannot afford. Despite the existence of government schemes, many women are unable to access them because of a lack of documents.

Malnutrition is rising across India - why? - BBC News

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