NEW DELHI, 19 November 2008 - On the eve of Universal Children’s Day, International agencies and donors made a joint commitment to support the Government of India to improve maternal and child nutrition in India. At an event today, ‘Unite for Nutrition’, jointly hosted by DFID, UNICEF, USAID and the World Bank, they underlined the need to build on political consensus and public support to sharpen strategies, which can help save millions of infants and mothers dying and suffering from under-nutrition.
The event was well attended by senior government officials, civil society, nutrition experts and heads of missions of the international development agencies. The nutrition leaders endorsed the Leadership Agenda for Action (recently released by the Coalition for Sustainable Nutrition Security in India) for reducing malnutrition. The panel at the event emphasised the importance of understanding and addressing the multiple causes of this serious challenge, particularly gender inequality and access to nutrition services.
The UK Minister for International Development, Douglas Alexander, spoke at the event applauding the commitment of the Government of India on nutrition but at the same time highlighting a much needed stronger effort to achieve nutrition security in India. Minister Alexander, who had just visited Bihar, said: “While India is undoubtedly a rising global power, we must not forget that it still faces huge development challenges - for example 58 per cent of children under five are underweight in Bihar. As a group of international partners concerned with eradicating poverty we are impressed with the increasing funds committed by the Indian government to nutrition and we jointly stand ready to support these efforts.”
Loveleen Kacker, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Women and Child Development, said at the event that the Government of India has been focusing efforts to combat the ‘monster of malnutrition’ for decades.
“We are glad to have a group of multilateral partners today who would like to help us solve it,” the joint secretary said. “Recently we have taken historical steps to further improve the situation. For example, we have doubled the amount of money allocated per child for our daily supplementary feeding programs from two rupees to four rupees for children with moderate malnutrition and from 2.7 to six rupees for children with severe malnutrition. This will undoubtedly help increase the amount of supplementary calories they receive every day.”
“Malnutrition remains a major threat to the survival, growth and development of India’s boys and girls,” added Karin Hulshof, UNICEF India Representative. “Malnourished girls become malnourished women, who give birth to low birth weight infants, who suffer from poor nutrition in the first years of life. The best opportunity to break this cycle is to concentrate our efforts on improving the nutrition of infants and young children from conception through the first two years of life.”
Stressing the need for a strong partnership to tackle an issue as complex as nutrition security in India, George Deikun, Mission Director USAID/India said, “There are no single-actor solutions that can bring about sustained results. This is particularly relevant to the challenges of under-nutrition. We know that it will take a strong partnership to tackle an issue as complex as nutrition security and we are honored to be a part of this important leadership effort. USAID recognizes the dedicated leadership of Professor M S Swaminathan in spearheading the Coalition. We now have the great responsibility to combine the clear technical agenda we have with the leadership and influence of those gathered to ensure that malnutrition ends in India. ”
"Malnutrition is the other face of poverty in India. Malnourished children are much more susceptible to disease, have a reduced capacity to learn and, once in the job market, their productivity is low," said Isabel Guerrero, Regional Vice President, South Asia, The World Bank. "The prevention of maternal and child malnutrition is therefore a long term investment in India’s people and its economy that will benefit the present generation as well as the next. The World Bank is delighted to work with DFID in taking this vital agenda forward in India and elsewhere."
India is home to more than a third of the world’s undernourished children. India’s under-nutrition statistics are worse than much of sub-Saharan Africa, with 43 per cent of children below five underweight. In many of the poorer states, rates have deteriorated in the past five years, with Madhya Pradesh now at 60 per cent and Bihar at 58 per cent. India’s child under-nutrition figures are behind where they would be expected to be at the current levels of per capita income – illustrating that other factors beyond income poverty are equally critical. The underweight prevalence in India is much higher among Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and has increased over the last seven years.
Under-nutrition can be attributed to a variety of factors including the lack of access to education for women, poor knowledge about good nutrition, lack of focus on under two’s, and geographical distance to health and nutrition services.
Notes for Editors
• The Unite for Nutrition event took place in New Delhi on 19 November, at the Silver Oak 1 Room in the India Habitat Centre. UK Minister for International Development Douglas Alexander attended the event. • Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh has recently reiterated the need to improve nutrition statistics in his Independence Day speech on August 15th, 2008,”The problem of malnutrition is a curse that we must remove” and in the week before the meeting announced the establishment of the PM’s National Council on India’s Nutrition Challenges. The council, whose members come from a broad range of ministries, is expected to tackle the high rate of under nutrition in India. • Minister Alexander launched a consultation on DFID’s new global Nutrition action plan that highlights it’s commitment to increase its efforts globally to improve nutrition security by improving international support and coherence, increased funds for research to demonstrate results and scaling up programmes where it is most needed. DFID will focus on the 20 highest burden countries of the world where 80% of the world’s underweight children live. • DFID would like to hear your views on the draft action plan. Please send your feedback at email@example.com by 19 January 2009. Please view the document online at http://www.dfid.gov.uk/consultations/ • DFID already supports a range of programmes with the Government of India, and state governments, such as Madhya Pradesh and Bihar, focusing on education, health and nutrition. DFID also provides significant support to rural livelihoods programmes, and to UNICEF. • The Leadership Agenda for Action highlights ten essential interventions for reducing malnutrition in infants and young children which includes breastfeeding, complimentary feeding from 6 months, full immunisation and improved nutrient intake for adolescent girls amongst others. Full copies are available at the event. • The Coalition for Sustainable Nutrition Security in India, chaired by Professor MS Swaminathan is a group of public and private sector leaders who have united in an effort to improve nutrition – they have released the Leadership Agenda for Action to promote policy, programme and budgetary focus on overcoming the curse of malnutrition. It includes ten essential interventions for reducing malnutrition in infants and young children. • For almost 60 years, food and nutrition security have been at the center of USAID’s programming in India. USAID is engaged in a number of efforts to share evidence-based approaches, foster partnerships, generate new ideas and provide technical assistance for improved nutrition programming, with a particular focus on women, infants and children in India. USAID also contributed to India’s Green Revolution, supporting agricultural universities, irrigation systems, and developing agricultural research capacity.