COVID-19 Nutrition fallout in wake of pandemic

Impact of COVID-19 Nutrition fallout in wake of pandemic

Context – The COVID-19 crisis has affected the Mid-Day Meal (MDM) Scheme, threatening the food security of children from underprivileged communities.

What are the key findings of recent Global Hunger Index (GHI) report?

Alarming situation for India-

  • India has been ranked at 94 among 107 countries in the Global Hunger Index (GHI) 2020. The country’s score of 27.2 is the worst among BRICS countries, and inferior to Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal.
  • India’s child wasting rate was extremely high at 20.8% – the highest.
  • The child stunting rate in India was 37.4 %,
  • The child wasting was at 17.3 %.
  • The undernourishment rate of India was at 14% and child mortality at 3.7 %.
  • India already far out in terms of achieving the ‘Zero Hunger’ goal.

What are the impacts of pandemic on food security of child?

Food security concerns due to pandemic-

  1. Loosing school meals– A real-time monitoring tool estimated that as of April 2020, the peak of school closures, 369 million children globally were losing out on school meals, majority were in India.
    • For children from vulnerable households, their only proper meal is the one they get at school.
  1. Inefficiency in policy implementation– The Government of India announced hot-cooked mid-day meal or dry ration for eligible school-going children even during pandemic. However, States were still struggling to implement this.
    • Dry ration distributions in lieu of school meals were irregular and started only in late May.
    • The offtake of grains under MDMS from FCI during April and May, 2020 was 22%, lower than the corresponding offtake during April and May, 2019.
  1. Children engaging in labor activity to supplement the fall in family incomes in vulnerable households.
    • There is a risk that some children may not even return to schools when they reopen.

What are the possible solutions required?

  1. Diverse diet- Nourishment through a diverse diet that includes fat, protein and micronutrients.
  2. Link local farmers with MDMS – Smallholder farmers can supply cereals, vegetables and eggs to local schools, which could diversify production and farming systems, transform rural livelihoods and the local economy, and fulfill the ‘Atmanirbhar Poshan’.
    • Locally produced vegetables and fruits may be added to the MDMS, also providing an income to local farmers.
  1. New Initiatives under MDMS- School Nutrition (Kitchen) Garden under MDMS to provide fresh vegetables for mid-day meals.
  2. Awareness program- The adequate awareness about of the availability of the scheme related to MDMS is needed for its proper implications.
  3. The missed mid-day meal entitlement for April-may should be provided to children as dry ration with retrospective effect.

Way forward-

  • With continuing uncertainty regarding the reopening of schools, innovation is similarly required to ensure that not just food, but nutrition is delivered regularly to children.
  • Strict measures are needed to ensure that the Public Distribution System (PDS) is accessible to all, especially the vulnerable.
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