The state government may have several schemes to root out malnutrition and ensure food security in Jharkhand, but their reach and the level of awareness among the masses is questionable.
Sphere India, a forum of NGOs in India, and German non-profit organisation Welthungerhilfe along with local implementing partner Pravah revealed this on Friday, based on a survey of rural households in three blocks of Ranchi and Deoghar districts.
Under Welthungerhilfe's "Fight Hunger First" initiative, a 12-member team surveyed health conditions at 2,170 and 3,693 households in Sonayraythadi and Devipur blocks of Deoghar, besides 70 homes in Ranchi's Angara block during April-June.
According to the survey that also gauged education, 80 per cent of the children between 0-5 years are underweight in the two blocks of Deoghar, besides 63 per cent suffering from malnutrition.
The survey suggested that the public distribution system had no presence in the areas, which also witnessed high dropout rates with children discontinuing studies after Class VI mainly, as they take up menial tasks to support their families financially.
Sharad Singh, an official involved in the survey, said, "We found that the main reason for malnutrition is the rural populace have a starch-based diet and avoid food that is rich in proteins and vitamins, even if they spend enough."
He opined that the rural economy should be strengthened by assisting the masses in agriculture, besides fisheries, goat rearing, piggery, et al to ensure steady generation of income.
The baseline study adopted two sets of approach ' one on household economy and the other on nutrition and education.
It collected information on mother and child nutrition, including breastfeeding, food habits, apart from enrolment and retention of children in schools. The main aim of the survey was to collect data on malnutrition in the 0-5 age group and enrolment and dropout rates of children between 5-14 years.
Joachim Schwarz, regional director of Welthungerhilfe, termed the findings in the two blocks of Deoghar as alarming. "The incidence of malnutrition is high in both blocks, especially among children between 0-5 years."
He stressed, "We need to strengthen malnutrition treatment centres in the state for which we require government support."
Schwarz added, "The Integrated Child Development Services scheme is also not accessed by the malnutrition centres. The services, if available in places, are quite poor as the malnutrition treatment centres lack qualified staff."
The NGOs held a state-level consultation on food and nutrition security in a city-based hotel on Friday to address the problem of malnutrition in Jharkhand as well as across the nation.
The conference was attended by various stakeholders including government officials and representatives of civil society.
"In order to address the problem of malnutrition we need to fight hunger first and introduce sustainable farming models. Immediate action is necessary to curb malnutrition in Jharkhand," Schwarz added.