Sheopur district of Madhya Pradesh has a long history of malnutrition. Home to the Sahariyas, a backward tribal community, nearly 55 percent of the children under five years of age are underweight and 52.1 percent stunted. And the spread of coronavirus pandemic and national lockdown only worsened their situation. With many migrant populations coming back to the district amidst the lockdown with no job and earning, Welthungerhilfe’s partner Mahatma Gandhi Seva Ashram (MGSA) with Ekta Parishad launched a campaign to support nearly 4000 children with nutritious food for the upcoming two months in Sheopur.
MGSA has been selflessly working to bring this community, especially their children, out of the clutches of ‘malnutrition’ since the past two years. They work very closely with the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) of the government and jointly have brought about a visible impact in the area. However, as per records, there are still nearly 40,000 children out of 100,000 children enrolled with the ICDS program in Sheopur district who are underweight.
Migration and malnutrition
High levels of poverty, lack of ownership over agricultural land and illiteracy compels a large section of this community to migrate to towns and cities where they mostly work as agricultural labourers. It is estimated that this year, more than 18,000 Sahariya tribal families with nearly 5000 children migrated to Rajasthan in search of work. However, with the spread of coronavirus pandemic and eventual national lockdown these migrants lost their livelihoods and clouds of uncertainty loomed over them. Lack of food and no income not only had a serious impact on the grown-ups but also had a devastating impact on the 5000 children accompanying them.
MGSA very efficiently coordinated with the district administrations and ensured the safe and dignified return of these migrants back to Sheopur. Till date, around 90 percent of the migrants have been brought back home. But the first national lockdown of 21 days already had a serious impact on the health of the stranded migrant children. The parents could not earn enough money and whatever little they did were spent on buying food in the first couple of weeks.
Upon their return, the organization identified the food intake need of these children in order to maintain the minimum level of nutrition as per UNICEF guidelines. As part of this initiative, 4000 children of migrant workers will be provided with nutritious food for the next two months. Under the first phase, 2000 families with malnourished children have been provided with 1 kg of Sattu (mixed gram flour) and 500g jaggery.
In Karahal block of the district, MGSA is not only distributing nutritious food but are also training mothers on the quantity and the different forms of food which needs to be provided. After a week, the team plans to monitor and evaluate the changes in the children’s health. Welthungerhilfe in collaboration with MGSA is working on ensuring food and nutrition security and creating nutrition smart villages in Karahal block of Sheopur district. It is indeed heartfelt to witness the efforts undertaken by MGSA to ensure nutrition security during these difficult times of coronavirus pandemic. It should also be noted that till date, MGSA has trained about 1.5 lakhs frontline workers of ICDS and women on child nutrition under several joint initiative with the government.
With inputs from Jai Singh (MGSA).