Plug gaps to ensure Odisha children get nutrition cover- The New Indian Express

The Orissa High Court’s direction to the state government to draw up an action plan to eliminate severe and moderate acute malnutrition by the year-end must serve as a wake-up call for the Naveen Patnaik administration. The court, hearing a PIL on malnutrition among children in the Jajpur district, deliberated on a host of issues that could be leading to the exclusion of children from the coverage of food and nutritional security despite a bouquet of Central and state schemes. It also widened the scope of the case and directed the administration of the neighbouring Keonjhar district to take stock of the situation. Both Jajpur and Keonjhar are mineral heartlands of Odisha; if the former is chromite-rich, the latter holds the bulk of iron ore reserves. Interestingly, Jajpur also happens to be the steel hub of the state. Ironically, the two districts that contribute substantially to Odisha’s envious mineral revenue—a staggering `49,000-plus crore in 2021–22—are under the scanner for malnutrition among children. Around seven years ago, Jajpur grabbed headlines for a spate of child deaths caused by chronic malnutrition. What appeared to be a thing of the past has returned to haunt us now.

The current situation has two sides to it: One is the inadequate reach of nutrition to children in the age group of zero to five. The nutritional adequacy is mapped monthly through a string of schemes that cover them from birth, track their mothers, and provide nutrition in anganwadis until they are enrolled in schools. The exclusion of any child from such an “umbrella coverage” calls for a closure of loopholes and tighter scrutiny of nutrition security programmes. Beyond that and well into adolescence, the midday meal programme in schools serves as the main provider of supplementary nutrition. This means that those dropping out or not enrolled in schools will struggle if the family is impoverished and without access to the public distribution system and livelihood and employment generation schemes.

According to the National Family Health Survey-5, only 20.4% of children in Odisha in the age group of six to 23 months get an adequate diet. The rate of wasting and stunting among children, though on the decline, continues to be high. It is about time the Odisha government shed the baggage of the past and ensured its nutrition security net leaves no child out.

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