New Delhi, Sep 12 (PTI) Introducing fortified staples, focussing on fulfilling nutritional requirements and increasing the ration size can help mitigate the nutrition loss suffered by children who could not get mid-day meals during the COVID-19 induced lockdown, UN WFP country director to India Bishow Parajuli said.
In an interview to PTI, Parajuli said India runs the largest school-feeding programme of the mid-day meal scheme but the COVID-19 crisis has rolled back some of the progress that was made in reducing malnutrition and is aggravating existing challenges.
Introducing fortified staples in the food baskets distributed to schoolchildren, focussing on fulfilling nutritional requirements of children rather than just providing food and increasing the ration size beyond the existing one as the food given is usually distributed within the family were among a few measures suggested by Parajuli to mitigate the nutrition loss incurred by children due to the absence of mid-day meals during lockdown.
'We know that it has been challenging for schools to reopen and operate in the current circumstance as the pandemic numbers continue to rise. Even as mid-day meal is the best route to food and nutrition security for children, the government is issuing extra food rations for the next five months to families under the PMGKY (Pradhan Mantri Gramodaya Yojana) during the COVID-19 lockdown and this will be helpful to meet children's food needs,' he said.
The mid-day meal (MDM) scheme is a flagship programme of the government of India wherein hot cooked meals are provided to schoolchildren in classes 1 to 8 (aged 6-14 years) across all government and government-aided schools and aims at enhancing enrolment, retention, attendance and simultaneously improving nutritional levels among schoolchildren.
The United Nations World Food Programme's (WFP) country director to India lauded the Centre and state governments action to ensure availability of school meal entitlements to children through various modalities both during lockdown and summer vacations.
The government issued a guidance to all states and union territories to provide mid-day meals either as dry rations or food security allowances, wherein the cost of food grains and cost should be transferred to the beneficiary accounts.
The government also asked states and union territories to continue provision of mid-day meal or food security allowance comprising food grains and its cooking cost in order to fulfil nutritional requirements of eligible children even during the summer break to safeguard their immunity.
However, he noted that the scheme has not been effectively implemented and could not reach all children as schools remain shut and home delivery-based implementation of the scheme varied from one state to another.
'Therefore, the probability of children succumbing to child labour to sustain themselves and their families has once again increased.
'The socio-economic impact of the pandemic on children and their families along with the limited access to nutritious meals would mean rise in malnutrition; therefore, immediate and holistic action across the country to address this challenge is the need of the hour,' he said.
Parajuli further said that the main focus of the UN WFP work in India is to improve the efficiency and nutritional effectiveness of the government's food-based safety nets, which includes WFP support to the mid-day meal programme. 'The WFP has worked in the mid-day meal scheme to integrate fortified staples such as rice and wheat flour, capacity building of cook cum helpers of the MDM in aspects of food safety and nutrition, supply chain optimisation, setting up of model kitchens,' he added. PTI UZM KJ KJ KJ KJ