A recent article in the newspaper regarding the death of children in Yemen due to malnourishment made me wonder what situation in our country is like. Well, the situation is no better than Yemen.

The major malnourished states of the country include Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Uttar Pradesh. Rajasthan and Maharashtra also come in the list of states prominent with malnutrition. With the world’s largest programme to combat malnutrition – Integrated Child Development Scheme – India has still proved to be incapable of eliminating this blot. What haunts my mind is that in a country of billions, where 60 per cent of its population continues to be engaged in agriculture, we are unable to meet the food demand in the country. A country famous for being one of the top food-producers in the world is also infamous for being a country with substantial section of population being malnourished. If we look at the statistics, the numbers are disappointing. About 38 per cent of the children under five are affected by stunting and about 21 per cent of children under 5 have been defined as ‘wasted’ or ‘severely wasted’ – which means that they do not weigh enough for their height. Moreover, 51 per cent of the women of reproductive age suffer from anemia and more than 22 per cent of adult women are overweight. For the sake of comparison, the percentage of overweight men in the country is much lower and stands at 16 per cent of adult men.

Malnutrition in children is caused due to malnutrition in mothers. Unless there is a healthy mother, there can’t be a healthy child. A pregnant woman must be given a highly nutritious meal, but due to poverty and illiteracy, mothers are not taken good care of and therefore their health tends toward malnutrition. Malnutrition should not be considered a disease, rather it is directly linked with people’s purchasing power and household economy. It can be very well tackled with the right food intake in the right quantity. The basic problem lies in lack of awareness among wider masses regarding food and nutrition. They eat whatever fills their stomach not knowing whether it is good for health or not. There is no one to tell them about the health benefits of each and every food they eat.

Gender inequality is also witnessed in Indian villages, which is another significant factor affecting malnutrition, especially among girls. A girl is given less food to eat, compared to her male sibling. This bias comes because of a centuries-old misconception that boys need more energy to work out in the field during daytime. A girl is cursed if she eats more because it would make her lazy, while a boy is encouraged to eat more or else he would become weak.

Improper sanitation helps in disease creation. Most villages in our country have open uncovered drains that are breeding ground for various diseases. Majority of the population living in villages defecate in open – near river banks or on the agricultural fields. Rain washes these faeces and drains them into the river or seeps them into the soil. This contaminated water is consumed by people and animals, creating a havoc of diseases. When we talk about cleanliness, we should not only talk about the cleanliness of our surrounding, but also of ourselves.

Self-cleanliness is of utmost importance because it is we who are the vectors for various diseases. One such aspect of cleanliness that has been neglected from times immemorial is the period of menstrual cycle in reproductive women. Women undergo hormonal changes each month leading to menstruation. Women in villages use clothes as a protection against stains, which they use again and again. Thus, the cloth becomes a breeding ground for deadly bacteria and pathogens which may enter the uterine cavity of the subject and cause uterine infection. To prevent this use of sanitary pads is necessary. They are clean and sterile, and also can be used only once, therefore eliminating the chance of reuse. Communities must be made aware of the benefits of such sanitary pads and their use must be promoted. In urban areas, these sanitary pads are very expensive, and only a few afford to use them. Contrary to popular belief, these pads can be manufactured using simple raw materials and communities can be trained to manufacture these pads for the welfare of the society and also for economical purposes. Environics Trust is manufacturing such sanitary pads that are low cost but highly efficient. The initiative has received tremendous appreciation from all parts of the society.

Using sawdust and wheat straw fragments for Mushroom cultivation

To eradicate malnutrition, the first and foremost goal must be to provide access to nutritious food and clean drinking water for every individual. The Environics Trust has been addressing to minimize malnutrition directly and indirectly – directly by promoting mushroom cultivation and indirectly by skill enhancement aimed at income generation. Oyster mushrooms are alternate source of nutritional food from agricultural wastes. Oyster mushrooms are a goldmine of nutrition. They are easy to grow, require minimum input and can be introduced in our staple diet. These can be incorporated into the government mid-day meal scheme to ensure that children may get adequate nutrition for healthy growth and development. Mushroom cultivation in villages can emerge as a new self-employment opportunity for the villagers. With this, they can fill their stomach as well as their families’ stomachs without any gender bias. People can get employed too.

One more initiative to fight malnutrition could be to provide education on the subject of food and nutrition. In every village, we should set up programmes where the importance of food and nutrition will be discussed and people will be enlightened with the health benefits. To provide access to clean drinking water, we can help install efficient and inexpensive water purifier systems in every household. Technology must not be confined to the cities; it must reach the needy and contribute in the uplifting of their lives. With the advancement of science and technology, eradicating malnutrition seems easy and we must pledge to achieve this milestone in another half of a decade.

Author – Raihanul Sarkar