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Maharashtra’s Palghar Is Fighting A Dual Battle – Malnutrition and COVID-19: An On-Ground Report

An on-ground report from Maharashtra’S Palghar region to showcase the plight of tribal families who are fighting A dual battle – malnutrition and COVID-19

Maharashtra's Palghar Is Fighting A Dual Battle - Malnutrition and COVID-19: An On-Ground Report Highlighting The Plight Of Tribal Families
  • Maharashtra’s Palghar has always been tagged as severely malnourished
  • In past few months, malnutrition in the district has increased by 2.3%
  • Tribal families struggled to get proper nutrition in the lockdown

New Delhi: In Maharashtra’s Palghar region, one year and one month old twins – Rupesh and Rupali get only dry rice as their daily meals. At an age when, children should get a diverse diet along with complementary feeding to get proper nutrition, these young children are only surviving on dry food, which is not even nutritious for their growth. A few metres from Rupesh and Rupali’s home lives the three-year-old Umesh Bhambre. He is a bit skinnier than other children of his age. His height is 84 cm and weight is mere 8 kilograms and he falls under the category of Moderate acute malnutrition (MAM).

This is not the story of these children alone, it is a story of every second child living in a district with a population of 3 million, 37 per cent of which are Scheduled Tribe.  Even though Palghar is barely 130 kilometres from Mumbai – the financial capital of India – it is tagged as one of the most backward districts in Maharashtra, where malnutrition is a very serious concern.

Back in 2005, this district came into limelight when child malnutrition claimed as many as 718 lives. In 2016, again more than 600 children died due to under-nutrition in the same district. In February 2019, the journal PLoS published a report that found 59 per cent of children up to age six were stunted and 53 percent were underweight in Palghar. The study also highlighted that the children in Palghar are undernourished because they do not have access to an all-round meal, which should include carbohydrates, protein, fat, minerals and vitamins.

After 15 years, the trends of malnutrition have still not changed in the region.

Also Read: Poshan Maah 2020: Why Protecting Health And Nutrition Rights Of Children During COVID-19 Is Important For India, Experts Speak

NDTV’s reporter Purva Chitnis went to Palghar district, for an on-ground reality check. Speaking to the families about the current scenario of coronavirus lockdown, she found that every second house in Palghar is coping up with some form of malnutrition and because of the lockdown and disturbed services, the situation of nutrition has further worsened in the region.

Talking to NDTV about the situation, Rupesh and Rupali’s grandmother Jaya Taral added,

We don’t have any money to feed these children vegetables or other nutritious food. We have 8 people in the house, my son works as a daily wager worker but due to lockdown his work is disturbed and as a result we don’t have money at home for our day-to-day activities. We all eat one meal a day and try and give all the meals to our children because their age requires more nutrition.

Umesh’s mother Pramila Badwe said,

Both my sons are struggling with malnutrition currently, my younger son Umesh is suffering from severe malnutrition therefore I need to take care of him even more. Currently, for us the struggle is getting daily meals. Earlier my elder son used to go to school, there he used to receive the mid-day meal, but now that also has stopped.

Earlier this year, NDTV had also visited the home of 35-year-old Dilip Wagh in Kadvyachimali village of Jawahar taluka in Palghar district and found that the family had barely enough food and no money to buy vegetables or cooking oil. They foraged herbs from the forest for meals and used the oil extracted after drying and crushing seeds from the Mahua tree for cooking. During the lockdown, the family is surviving only on government rations.

In past six months, malnutrition in Palghar has increased by 2.3 per cent as per the women and child care authority of the district. Many families have also complained that in these past few months they have got their free take home rations as well in a disturbed manner. They only managed to get 2 kgs of the essentials like pulses, rice and grain, which is very less to feed even one member of the family properly.

Status Of Malnutrition In Maharashtra

Maharashtra is one of the richest and the second most populous state in India, however the prevalence of undernutrition and malnutrition is unacceptably high in the state, particularly among the tribal children. According to NFHS 4, the state has not been able to fight wasting or low weight for height and underweight problem among children below five years of age who were covered in the survey. The data shows that wasting has seen an increase of more than nine per cent from 16.5 per cent in NFHS 3 (2005-06) to 25.6 per cent in NFHS 4 (2015-16), which is worse than the national average of 21 per cent. On the other hand, the prevalence of underweight children in the state has been brought down by just one per cent. This indicates a failure in catering to the nutritional needs of the children in the state who were covered in the survey.

Expert View On Malnutrition In COVID Times

Experts think coronavirus pandemic has worsened the situation not just for Palghar in Maharashtra but for India overall. Dr. Jatinder Bir Singh, Head, MEAL from NGO Save the Children highlighting the two rapid need surveys done by the organisation to understand the impact of COVID on nutrition for families and children said,

We did two surveys in past few months in 14 states and 2 Union Territories of India with more than 7,000 respondents and we found that the two biggest challenge for the rural India in the times of coronavirus were cash for day to day activities and food supplies. As the poor households have limited livelihood opportunities, in coronavirus circumstances this has gotten worse which in a way is affecting the nutrition and food intake of the families. As per the survey, it was noted that one in every three households did not receive their take home ration (THR) during the time of pandemic, close to two-fifth of the household reported that their children are not receiving mid-day-meal and are therefore becoming weak. And close to one out of five households did not receive ration under the public distribution scheme by the government.

Also Read: In COVID-19 Pandemic, More And More Families Are Going Hungry Thereby Impacting India’s Nutritional Status: NGO Save The Children

Basanta Kumar Kar, Recipient of 2019 Global Nutrition Leadership Award also known as Nutrition Man of India on the other hand said,

Maharashtra’s Palghar region has always been the talk because of its malnutrition rate. Before coronavirus crisis the situation in that region wasn’t great and as we all know the pandemic has disturbed livelihoods across India and Palghar is no different. However, having said that, the vulnerability of the pandemic in terms of nutrition among the women and children is even more for tribal regions like Palghar as compared to the rest of the world. India needs to fight the problem of malnutrition from every area or region of the country as it is fighting for COVID only then the situation will get a little better.

Also Read: Can India Piggy Bank On Food Fortification To Achieve The Goal Of POSHAN Abhiyaan?

NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (WaterSanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollutionwaste managementplastic banmanual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene

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