Widespread malnutrition in Maharashtra was brought to the fore again with the deaths of 13 children in the last two months in the tribal district of Palghar, less than 100 km to the north of Mumbai, Indias financial capital.
Nearly half of all children under five are “stunted” — short for their age, a sign of malnutrition — in Nandurbar (47.6 per cent) and Yavatmal (47.4 per cent) districts of Maharashtra, India’s most industrialised state, a rate higher than war-torn Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East.
Other districts with high stunting rates are Parbhani (46.4 per cent), Jalna (44.1 per cent) and Buldana (43.9) per cent. Internationally, these rates are comparable with Gautemala (46.2 per cent), Rwanda (44.3 per cent) and Laos (43.8 per cent.
Up to 22.2 per cent of children under five are “wasted” — short as well as underweight for their age — in Gadchiroli district, a rate equivalent to poverty- and conflict-stricken South Sudan in Africa, and 55.4 per cent of children are underweight in the district of Nandurbar, the same rate as Madhya Pradesh’s Sheopuri district, which reports India’s worst malnutrition, according to the National Family Health Survey 4 (NFHS 4).
Stunting, wasting and underweight together determine malnutrition among children. Malnutrition, which has long-term consequences on sensory, cognitive, social and emotional development, has fallen, on average, across India from 42.4 per cent to 29.4 per cent over 19 years, to 37.9 million children under five.
In Sangli district, 23.3 per cent of children under five are stunted, the same rate as in South Africa, while 21.3 per cent are stunted in Mumbai’s suburban district, equivalent to Cabo Verde, a Northeast African nation that recently made it to middle-income ranks, according to 2014 World Health Organisation (WHO) data.
The tribal district of Gadchiroli (22.2 per cent) and Chandrapur (16.1 per cent) report wasting among children under five equivalent to conflict-ridden countries, such as South Sudan and Sudan. The rates are also high in Nandurbar (15.1 per cent), Washim (14.9 per cent) and Yavatmal (14.6 per cent).
At the other end of the scale are some cities, such as Kolhapur, where just 5.9 per cent of children under five are wasted, similar to relatively prosperous Bhutan.
(In arrangement with IndiaSpend.org, a data-driven, non-profit, public interest journalism platform. Prachi Salve is an analyst with IndiaSpend. The views expressed are those of IndiaSpend. Feedback at email@example.com)