India is a vigorous democracy that has sent an orbiter to Mars. Yet its children are more likely to starve than children in far poorer nations in Africa!
In a remarkable failure of democracy, India is the epicenter of global malnutrition: 39 percent of Indian children are stunted from poor nutrition; according to government figures (other estimates are higher). Stunting is worse in India than in Burkina Faso or Haiti, worse than in Bangladesh or North Korea.
In Uttar Pradesh, a vast state of 200 million people in India’s north, the malnutrition is even more horrifying. By the government’s own reckoning, a slight majority of children under age 5 in this state are stunted–worse than in any country in Africa save Burundi, according to figures in the 2015 Global Nutrition Report.
A couple of bold new theories are emerging to explain why India does so poorly in child nutrition:
The first is that the low status of women leads to maternal nutrition in India that is much worse than previously believed. Women often eat last in Indian households–and 42 percent of Indian women are underweight before pregnancy, according to Diane Coffey, a Princeton University economist. Then during pregnancy, Indian women gain only half the recommended weight. Many children are malnourished in the uterus and never recover.
The second new theory is poor sanitation, particularly open defecation, with about half of Indians defecating outside without using toilets. The result is that children pick up parasites and chronic infections that impair the ability of the intestines to absorb nutrients–and 117,000 Indian children die each year from diarrhea, according to UNICEF.
[Nicholas Kristof writing in NY Times]