The country which has health has hope, and the country which has hope has everything.
Nutritional well being of citizens, especially that of the little ones, is the bedrock of any country’s prosperity & development. Nutrition can be defined as the process of obtaining the food necessary for health and growth. Ensuring nutritional well being of the citizens is not only a moral imperative but also an economic investment that pays dividends in terms of ensuring a more productive workforce, ultimately propelling the country towards overall development. Children suffering from malnutrition* after growing up earn 20% less than those who have had healthy childhoods. Research suggests that every $1 spent on nutritional interventions in India could generate $34.1 to $38.6 in public economic returns- three times the global average.
India is home to 158.8 million children as per the census of 2011. Every day 67,385 babies are born in India, that’s one sixth of the world’s child births; the births per year in India at 25 million account for one fifth of the world’s annual child births.
Counting the pregnant women & lactating mothers further to this estimate, it is evident that in terms of pure load on global numbers, how India tackles its nutrition targets will have a huge bearing upon the achievement of SDG 2* & SDG 3*. Keeping the same in mind, The GoI* implemented POSHAN* Abhiyaan (earlier known as National Nutrition Mission) on 8th March 2018, in accordance with the national nutrition strategy released by NITI Aayog* in September, 2017. All states & UTs have been covered under the Abhiyaan. A flagship programme of the Ministry of Women & Child Development (MWCD), beneficiaries of this mission are children from 0-6 years, adolescent girls, pregnant women & lactating mothers. The Abhiyaan targets to reduce Stunting, Undernutrition, Anaemia, and reduce low birth weight by 2%,2%, 3% and 2% per annum respectively. POSHAN Abhiyaan seeks to ensure a “malnutrition free India by 2022”- a direct emulation of SDG 2.2*. The mission also aims at real-time monitoring through Common Application Software (CAS), intensified health & nutrition services for the first 1000 days & Jan Andolan (community mobilisation).
The outcomes of the mission emulate a known tale of India’s nutrition crisis. Although, India has always aimed at improving the food & nutritional security of the country through policies such as the POSHAN Abhiyaan, the mid day meal scheme, as well as through laws such as the National Food Security act of 2013, the grim statistics even now are such that leading global rankings like The Global Hunger Index (2020)- which is calculated on the basis of total undernourishment of the population, child stunting, wasting and child mortality- places India at the 101st spot among 116 countries, slipping from 94th spot of 2020. Whereas, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar & Pakistan have been ranked at 65th, 76th, 71st & 92nd respectively. On a positive note, simple linear projections done by the World Bank show that infant mortality rate, under five mortality rates & neonatal mortality rate(per 1000 live births) in India will decline considerably by 2030, in line with achievement of SDG 3.1* & 3.2*. The projections (based on the business-as-usual model) of malnutrition indicators, however , are expected to lag far behind SDG targets. Findings of Kharas et al. (2018) are that India will account for 33 per cent & 21 per cent of the total worldwide number of stunted & wasted children respectively under SDG target 2.2*. Data from the fifth round of NFHS (2019-2021)* from 22 Indian states also shows that only five states showed a marginal decline in the number of stunted children, 10 in wasted children and six in underweight children. The percentage of stunted, wasted and underweight children increased or remained unchanged in the remaining state.
Most importantly, the budgetary allocation towards child nutrition saw a drop by 18.5% compared to 2020-21. Aside from macro policy decisions, regional & district level augmentation of the network of 1,012,374 Anganwadi centres is also crucial for actual delivery on ground. The emergence of Covid-19 has deviated the already weak institutional delivery mechanisms of India from achieving its SDG targets further.
The ways to keep India on its path of achieving SDG 2030 targets provided by key institutions like NABARD*, NITI Aayog & others call for synergising India’s agricultural programmes & nutrition sensitive interventions , diversifying the staples under food security programmes including the promotion of bio-fortified staples, investing in Women’s education & empowerment, universalisation of WASH facilities.
While POSHAN Abhiyaan has not been able to make a significant dent in improving the nutritional aims of the population, the lessons learned during its course must be carried forward and India’s fight for ensuring a healthier future for its citizens should not stop.
Abbreviations & definitions-
- Malnutrition- Lack of sufficient nutrition in the body. Stunting, wasting, underweight, and obesity are various forms of malnutrition.
- SDG 2- End Hunger, Achieve food security & improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture
- SDG 3-Ensure Healthy lives & promote well-being for all at all ages.
- GoI- Government of India
- POSHAN-Prime Minister’s Overarching Scheme for Holistic Nutrition
- NITI Aayog- National Institution for Transforming India
- SDG target 2.2- End all forms of malnutrition by 2030, including achieving by 2025 the internationally agreed targets on stunting & wasting in children under 5 years of age, and address the nutritional needs of adolescent girls, pregnant & lactating women & older persons.
- Target 3.1- Reduce global maternal mortality to less than 70 per 100,000 live births.
- target 3.2- Reduce neonatal mortality & under-5 mortality
- NFHS- National Family Health Survey
- NABARD- National Bank for Agriculture & Rural Development
- Achieving nutritional security in India: Vision 2030, Research study -9 , Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER)
The views expressed in this article are the author's own.