Disasters Exacerbate Child Malnutrition, Says Study

BHUBANESWAR: Natural calamities and disasters exacerbate poor nutritional status among children in Odisha, inflicting multifold increase in undernutrition like wasting and stunting in the affected regions.

Prevalence of wasting or acute malnutrition among children in flood-ravaged regions is more than three times higher than those in non-flooding areas, a population-based study has found.

The study, claimed to be the first of its kind, was conducted in the flood and cyclone prone district of Jagatsinghpur and has established a definite association between flooding and child undernutrition. The survey took into account the floods of 2006 and 2008, putting the affected areas with those that had not been affected at all.

“Among repeatedly flooded communities, cases of severe wasting in children were 3.37 times more prevalent than for children inhabiting in non-flooded areas and nearly twice more in areas flooded only once. Further, children who were younger than one year when floods hit the district in 2006 showed an average prevalence of wasting four times higher than those inhabiting intact villages,” the study stated.

The survey was undertaken by lead researcher Jose Manueal Rodriguez-Lianes from the Centre for Research on Epidemiology of Disasters, University Catholique de Louvain, Brussels, Sisir Ranjan Dash of Siksha O Anusandhan University, Alok Mokhopadhya and Debarati Guha-Sapir.

Of nearly 900 children, the prevalence among those from areas flooded in 2006 and 2008 was 51.6 per cent while in those flooded only in 2008, it was 41.4 per cent and in non-flooded areas, it was 21.2 per cent.

Odisha continues to struggle with high child undernutrition rate. According to Rapid Survey on Children (RSOC) by Union Women and Child Development Ministry, 18.3 per cent of children in the State are suffering from wasting while over 34.4 per cent are grossly underweight.

Natural disasters like floods are major contributors to the problem as they disrupt livelihood, especially in low resource settings.

They inflict a plethora of adverse conditions including food insecurity along with disruption in daily care of children, breastfeeding, worsened sanitation and hygiene and quality of drinking water, the study concluded.

The researchers have called for implementation of long-term nutritional response in the aftermath of floods, particularly in areas where flooding is a recurrent problem.

Particular attention should be paid to nutritional health of mothers as effects are worst among infants. Systematic monitoring of nutritional status of mothers and children will help tailor efficient response, they stressed.

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The New Indian Express