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Home to ancient Buddhist ruins, colourful crafts and beaches on the Bay of Bengal, the state of Orissa has a population of about 42 million people and lies along India’s eastern shores. The coastal areas are more developed than the interior or southern parts of the state. 

With growing industrialization and prosperity, the population’s average income has almost tripled in recent decades. This has been partly boosted by the mining industry and growing information technology development.  However, Orissa still remains the top state in India to have the highest percentage of people living below the poverty line. 

UNICEF is working closely with the Government of Orissa to tackle the most pressing challenges facing women and children.

As 40 per cent of all children under three years old in Orissa are underweight and 61 per cent of adolescent girls are anaemic, UNICEF supports essential nutrition programmes focusing primarily on the first two years of life. Some of these programmes include promoting early and exclusive breastfeeding, timely complementary feeding, anaemia control programmes for adolescent girls and the use of iodized salt by all families.

Orissa has one of the highest infant and maternal mortality rates in India. UNICEF and the Government of Orissa are working together to tackle this challenge. The infant mortality rate is the second highest in the country. The majority of infant deaths take place in the first month of the child’s life. The primary focus is thus a programme for early identification, referral and treatment of newborns at the community level.

In addition, an increasing number of institutional care units for sick and newborn children are being created and more training of skilled birth attendants are being provided. Health services for disadvantaged communities are also being strengthened. Focus on the usage of latrines and handwashing practices is also crucial in the reduction of infant mortality rate in the state.

Orissa has the second highest proportion of scheduled caste and tribal people in India. Tribal communities constitute almost half of the state’s poor. The literacy rate in these communities is among the lowest in the country.

UNICEF is supporting the Government of Orissa in the implementation of the Right to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act as well as developing and promoting multilingual education so that children from tribal areas are encouraged to attend primary schools and have a smoother transition to the state language.

Since the state is vulnerable to floods and cyclones, emergency preparedness is a high priority for UNICEF here, assisting communities with emergency preparedness strategies and providing essential supplies.

Challenges and Opportunities

The undernutrition of children in Orissa continues to be serious, primarily because of incorrect infant and child feeding practices. Only half of Orissa’s mothers practise exclusive breastfeeding for a child’s first six months.

Linked with these health concerns is the increasing number of children under three and young women who are anaemic or suffering from vitamin deficiencies that make them more likely to suffer or die from common illnesses such as diarrhoea, measles and pneumonia.

A low literacy rate and high numbers of school dropouts, particularly among poor and tribal communities, are ongoing challenges.

Other challenges and opportunities:

• Only about half of children under 12 months are fully vaccinated against measles, tuberculosis, polio, diphtheria and other common childhood diseases.
• A limited number of skilled health workers are available to manage sick newborns at a community level, and to offer birth attendance to mothers.
• Prevalence of HIV/AIDS is low but public education about the disease is inadequate, especially amongst adolescents.
• School dropout rates are high, and about 40 per cent of boys and girls do not complete eighth standard.
• Orissa has the highest percentage of out-of-school children between ages six and 14 in India.
• About one third of women in the state are married by age 18.
• Floods and cyclones repeatedly devastate coastal and riverside communities in Orissa.
• Drought and crop loss regularly cause migration and starvation, particularly of children, in the state’s western and central districts.

UNICEF in Action

UNICEF is taking concrete steps to save the lives of babies and mothers in Orissa.

Among its initiatives, UNICEF is working with the Government of Orissa to strengthen health workers’ training, improve and extend institutional care for newborns, and ensure mothers receive skilled birth attendance. To tackle undernutrition, UNICEF is a partner in the roll-out of infant and young child nutrition practices which will focus specifically on seven out of the thirty districts of the state where the current breastfeeding and complementary feeding practices are very low.  Some of the implications will also be statewide. 

Other UNICEF programmes include promoting children’s participation in schools, promoting the use of latrines and handwashing with soap at critical times especially amongst caregivers, and advocating for non-institutional forms of care as defined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. 

UNICEF initiatives include:

Child Survival   
• To increase full immunization of common childhood diseases, UNICEF provides technical assistance to the state immunization programme in planning, implementation, monitoring and analysis.
• Special New Born Care Units, supported by UNICEF,  to combat infant mortality are being set up as well as training of frontline workers at the community level on early detection, treatment and referral of newborns.
• To reduce the risk of child mortality, blindness, infection and undernutrition, UNICEF provides technical assistance to a bi-annual vitamin A supplementation programme for children aged six to 59 months. Recently, programme coverage has reached more than 90 per cent in all state districts and included a component of deworming in specific districts that will be rolled out statewide.
• Consumption of iodized salt is being promoted to improve brain development and prevent motor and hearing problems in children.
• Adolescent anaemia is being addressed through a programme that distributes iron folic acid tablets to out-of-school girls in specific districts.
• The use of latrines and handwashing with soap at critical times is also being promoted to help reduce infant mortality rates through infections.

Child Protection and Education,
• UNICEF supports government programmes to increase school enrolment, retention, achievement and completion rates for elementary students, particularly for girls, and those from tribal and other socially excluded communities.
• A special team of technical staff is supporting the State Government in developing guidelines for the roll out of the RTE Act. In addition, tribal language education is being promoted in different districts of Orissa.
• In the disadvantaged area of Koraput, a district in the southern part of the state, special efforts have been made to enrol and retain children in school by promoting activity based learning and classroom transaction in the local language.


• UNICEF has partnered with Indian Oil Corporation to target truckers to promote awareness and counselling on HIV/AIDS at petrol pumps in Orissa. Petrol attendants are trained as counsellors and condoms are available at the pumps.
• In select districts, village youth volunteers in Red Ribbon Clubs are trained to counsel peers and community members about safe sex and the risks of HIV.

Emergency Preparedness

UNICEF has established stockpiles of disinfectants, shelter materials, blankets, water purification tablets and oral rehydration salts as part of its emergency preparedness in the state.

UNICEF Address in Orissa

UNICEF State Office for Orissa
Plot No: 44, Surya Nagar
Bhubaneswar 751 003
Orissa, India

Tel: +91 0674-2397980
Tel: +91 0674-2397455
Fax: 0674-2397976



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