Poor nutrition costs children health, early education in Budgam

"She faints almost every afternoon in the class," says Nisar Ahmad, who teaches English and Mathematics subjects at Government Middle School, Lakhripora, in Central Kashmir''s Budgam district.
Poor nutrition costs children health, early education in Budgam

"She faints almost every afternoon in the class," says Nisar Ahmad, who teaches English and Mathematics subjects at Government Middle School, Lakhripora, in Central Kashmir's Budgam district. For weeks together we couldn't diagnose her and other students with same symptoms accurately, till she approached one day during morning prayers in the school and asked in a meek voice whether he has any information about the distribution of rice at Ration Ghat in the village.

Ishrat Jan, 10, a class 5th student had not taken food from last three days, as the family had no rice to be cooked at home, Ahmad was told by this girl. "I was shocked after listening these words," he said, adding,  her family's financial condition was very bad, which was why they could not afford two-times meal a day.

"The four children of a family are enrolled in the school and all of them are very weak with pale faces because of insufficient food, which has affected their health and growth, and they hardly remain focused in the class," he said.

Their family is dependent on agriculture and manual labour with its head only bread earner.

"We drink salt tea early in the morning at home and then eat our lunch- mid day meal, at school," she said, adding, sometimes when food was not served at school, they have to spend the day without taking any food.

Saher Jan, Mohammad Asim Malik, Ramiz Ahmad also have to face the same situation in the class, Ahmad says.

"It is unbearable to live without food in the class for the whole day, but we have to bear it at times," Saher, a 4th standard student said.

Usually, the government funded projects and schemes do not remain functional throughout the year,  rather it runs for few months. The school children also said that:"We were not provided mid day meals upto late April month and after November the school administration stops cooking food."

A local inhabitant, who identified himself as Abdul Gani seems more apprehensive about the future of these children, saying, the farming land- the main source of villagers income, has turned almost infertile due to lack of proper irrigation facilities and huge input costs.

Elaborating further, Gani says he had invested some Rs, 15, 000 on 4- kanals of paddy land as input cost, but in return was not expecting the final output more than the invested amount. "The traditional methods of agriculture has pushed poor people at the mercy of God," he says.

In this Budgam village of more than 275 households,  life is marked by strenuous work toiling land in rugged terrain with meager output- little access to basic services.  Out of 36 villages dependent on a single irrigation canal, this village being the last one- hardly gets water to irrigate their fields on time, because of which the agriculture is not so productive.   Successive poor harvests have diminished their household food stocks and the family's nutrition status. A subsistence farmer in the village has "literally' learnt to live with hunger.

Seeing the condition of these children and plight of their families, Ahmad says, many a times he asked the school cook to pour more quantity of rice on certain plates to ensure that these "marginalized" children get more to eat.

While more than 99 per cent of people are engaged in subsistence agriculture, continued family growth in this village, has decreased the food share among the members in many families. Though,  the poverty-reduction schemes like MGNREGA and few schemes designated to improve the nutritional status of school-age children including Anganwadi and Mid Day Meals are there, still malnutrition, especially in children, is evident.

With all these schemes, still eradicating hunger remains an enormous challenge in some families here that has an impact on overall growth of their children, says Arshid Hussain, another  teacher.

Hussain adds out of total one hundred student roll, there are some 12- 15 such students in the school. One in eight students are unable to gain regular access to enough food to be able to study, grow, ward off disease, and otherwise live healthy lives.

Dr Irshad Ahmad, of  JVC, Srinagar says: "Inadequate nutrition causes stunting, weakened immune systems and difficulties in learning and concentration." This affects overall growth and development of children. " Symptoms include underweight, physical stunting, muscle wasting, weak ability to mentally concentrate and increased vulnerability in children to illnesses," he adds.

India at global level has therefore made concerted efforts to expand and strengthen its national flagship programs on nutrition, early learning, and health through the Integrated Child Development Services Scheme (ICDS) and the National Health Mission (NHM) to meet the basic requirements of young population. But the Global Nutrition Report 2016 on global and country-level nutrition mentioned in its latest report that the challenge remains high, especially in India's poorest states.

World Bank Group president Jim Yong Kim, also said that India's malnutrition is still high.

Though, the state government here has adopted many measures with the assistance of central government to ensure proper growth and overall development of the children. The scheme and programs are- school health program, nutrition schemes- including Anganwadi centers and Mid Day Meal scheme and few others.

However, in this Himalayan state the lackadaisical approach of the successive government and administrative hiccups, these schemes couldn't be properly implemented because of which marginalized sections of the society have to bear the brunt.

Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) in its report said that one of the flagship schemes of centre in education sector-Mid-day meals has not been implemented properly. The CAG revelation puts a question mark on the department's ability to provide proper nutrition to the deserving children enrolled in government schools.

The examination of the records of administrative department- including Director School Education of Jammu division, Director School Education of Kashmir division, Chief Education Offices, Zonal Education Offices and other authorities conducted the performance audit of the scheme from year 2010-11 to 2014-15.

The CAG report also indicated that there is lack of coordination between the hierarchy of the department and those working on the ground.

Despite being the serious issue, the government has not the proper data available on malnutrition children in the district.

Deputy Commissioner Budgam, Mir Altaf Ahmad said that the administration has taken major steps to ensure proper delivery and implementation of people friendly schemes. "The district administration has been tasked to prepare a detailed reports, once the concerned officials submit their findings, quick action will be taken to fill the loopholes in the system," Ahmad said.

Chief Education Officer (CEO), Budgam Inderjeet Sharma said that the norms of expenditure towards cooking costs shall under no circumstances be fixed less than Rs 3. 76 per child per day for primary stage and Rs 5. 64 per child per day for upper primary stage. "For primary stage students, we have to provide 100 grams of food per child per school day and for Upper primary the quantity should be 150 grams," Sharma said.

(Mir Iqbal is Media Fellow with Save the Children, J&K and can be reached at iqbal.mir26@gmail.com)

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