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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 January 2007, 18:48 GMT
Child nutrition campaign 'fails'
Manmohan Singh
The PM's criticisms are 'surprisingly strong'
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has warned that malnutrition rates for children in his country remain among the highest in the world.

In a strongly-worded letter sent to state chief ministers, Mr Singh said that a massive programme to improve health and nutrition had failed.

The letter said that the programme had been "poorly implemented".

A UN report in May said that half of the world's under-nourished children live in South Asia, with most in India.

'No substantial improvement'

The prime minister said that the country's Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) scheme had not sufficiently dented child malnourishment levels.

"There is strong evidence that the programme has not led to any substantial improvement in the nutritional status of children under six," Mr Singh said, urging strong action.

Indian child

Some 50 million children aged six and below are supposed to be covered under the 45bn-rupee ($1bn) ICDS scheme.

"Our prevalent rate of under-nutrition in the 0-6 age group remains one of the highest in the world," Mr Singh said.

"These are startling figures and the situation calls for urgent action."

A further 110m children in the 0-6 age group remain outside the purview of the ICDS programme, which was meant to expand gradually.

Last year the UN children's agency, Unicef, said that the average malnutrition rate in some Indian states - such as densely populated Uttar Pradesh - was 40%.

That is higher than sub-Saharan Africa where it is around 30%, Unicef said.

Constantly marred

Correspondents say that the criticisms in the prime minister's letter were surprisingly strong.

A recent health ministry survey said that the number of undernourished children below the age of three had actually risen in some states since the late 1990s, despite higher incomes and rapid economic growth.

Mother Rukma with baby Barsa
A malnourished child at a health centre in India

The ICDS scheme was established in 1975, and is one of the biggest childcare efforts in the world, providing immunisations, supplementary food and medical check-ups for pregnant women.

The scheme is implemented by thousands of state-funded community workers in poor, rural areas with limited or no medical facilities.

Correspondents say that efforts to provide nutritious food to children have been constantly marred by corruption in which food intended for the poor is stolen or sold to other people.

Economists say that India's economy has grown at over 8% over the past three years and is expected to expand close to 9% in the fiscal year ending March 2007.

But despite the new-found prosperity of the few, close to 300m Indians still live on less than $1 (44 rupees) a day.


SEE ALSO
'Hunger critical' in South Asia
13 Oct 06 |  South Asia
In pictures: Feeding the world
01 May 06 |  In Pictures

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