As many as 1,01,378 children below the age of six have been categorised as severely underweight in the state, revealed the September 2016 report of Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS), showing a rise of 5,635 cases within a month. Officials from the department of Women and Child Development (WCD) and experts attribute the rise to the drought situations in districts of Vidarbha and Marathwada region.
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The number of severely underweight children reported in August was 95,743. The figures are reversal of the trend in the state, which had been reporting a drop in child malnutrition every year.
The number of severely underweight children had declined from 98,313 in 2012-13 to 78,473 in 2014-15, according to data from the ICDS. The same then increased to 95,743 in August this year. The new figures show nearly 22.59 per cent increase in severely underweight children between 2014-15 and 2016-17.
Figures show that the total number of underweight children, including both moderate and severe category, in the state has increased by nearly 26,000 in September with nearly 7.2 lakh cases recorded as compared to 6.9 lakh cases in August.
The ICDS is a national welfare scheme under the commissionerate of WCD that provides additional food to children below six years under the Supplementary Nutrition Programme (SNP) with an aim to combat malnutrition. Low weight is among the key indicators of malnutrition. The Palghar district recorded 9,137 severely underweight children in September as compared to 6,694 cases in August 2016. Mumbai which recorded 2,886 cases in August has 3,025 cases in September.
Similarly, Nanded and Hingoli in the Marathwada region which was grappling with a severe drought between 2014-15 and 2015-16 reported rise in the number of severely underweight children. This year malnutrition has marginally decreased in Nagpur district. However, other districts of the deprived Vidarbha region such as Buldhana Chandrapur which were partially affected by the drought has shown increase. Jalgaon in north Maharashtra, which faced both unseasonal rains and a water crisis, also reported a marginal rise in severely underweight children.
“The rise in malnutrition also seems to be correlated to the drought situation, which we are trying to combat through our ‘Village Child Development Centre’ (VCDC) scheme. Meanwhile, we have also proposed to set up VCDCs in non-tribal areas,” said Commissioner of ICDS, Vinita Singhal.
Officials say that by restricting VCDCs only in tribal areas, ICDS will be able to reach only less than half of the total children who fall under the Severely Acute Malnutrition (SAM) category (a life threatening condition) in the state.
Experts have criticised the government’s move to slash budgets for the ICDS, given the trend. The state budget for 2016-17 cut spending on the women and child welfare department, which oversees the ICDS, by 62 per cent, according to an analysis by social sector groups. Officials, however, deny budget cuts have impacted the ICDS programme.
The state’s ICDS commissioner, however, admits that efforts to reduce child malnutrition in the state have plateaued. “The reduction of malnutrition does hit a plateau after a few years and to reduce the cases further, we need to really focus on technology-intensive efforts,” said Singhal.
The tribal concentrated areas have recorded 36,158 cases of severely underweight children in September as compared to 33,628 in August. The remainder of 1,01,378 cases were reported in the non-tribal areas.