An adult of 19 kg

Published: September 2, 2009 - 12:51 Updated: September 2, 2009 - 12:53

In the past two years this hospital has recorded over 234 adult patients whose average weight was less than 32 kilograms

When Veka Chinakka, 48, migrated from her village in south Bastar district of Chhattisgarh in central India to the neighbouring province of Andhra Pradesh in early 2008, she thought she could start a new life in the new place.

Luck was not on her side though. Just a couple of months after she landed up in Ringala, a forest village in Bhadrachalam division of Andhra, she died - of starvation. Her two sons could not save her as they had no work or money and were themselves unwell from various ailments.

Chinakka was from the Gottikoya tribe, one of the many ethnic tribal groups that make up the province of Chhattisgarh. They, like thousands of other tribals, are under severe threat from the virtual civil war between State forces and the Maoists.

Even before this conflict erupted five years ago, Chhattisgarh was in a paradoxical situation typical of many of the central Indian provinces that are rich in mineral and forest resources and yet have large populations of extremely poor and hungry people. Some of the reasons for this paradox are:

 The steady encroachment and destruction of forest resources by large mining and dam projects resulting in the displacement of tribals who have very few skills with which to survive in urbanised areas.

 Incursion of the money economy and privatisation of areas that were common lands earlier. Land that belonged to tribals traditionally has now passed into the control of non-tribal settlers from different parts of India. \

 The destruction of bio-diversity and traditional food cultivation practices that have reduced access to nutritious food and replaced it with expensive varieties of cereals and proteins that many in the area cannot afford to buy.

Though rich in minerals and forest resources, Chhattisgarh is one of India's poorest states with over 50 per cent of the entire population categorised  as malnourished. India's malnutrition rates are worse than those prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa with 40 per cent of low-weight babies worldwide being Indian, below 2.5 kg. According to national surveys, every second child in the country, under three years of age, is malnourished. The number for malnourished under-fives is around 60 million, which is two-and-a-half times the population of Australia.

The status of tribal populations, like in Chhattisgarh, is particularly bad. "While the rest of the world is talking about AIDS caused by HIV, what we are witnessing in several parts of Chhattisgarh is AIDS caused by malnutrition," says a doctor in Bilaspur, the second largest city in Chhattisgarh, who did not want to be quoted. (There is no sexual transmission involved at all in what is called 'Nutritionally Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome' or N-AIDS. This is essentially the breakdown of the body's immune system due to lack of nutrition. The effect though is similar to AIDS caused by HIV infection).

According to the doctor, in the past two years his hospital has recorded over 234 adult patients whose average weight was less than 32 kilograms. He claims to have treated one adult patient who weighed a mere 19 kgs. "It is impossible for people from outside to imagine what is happening - the starvation here is as bad as in famine hit Sudan," he says

In the past two years this hospital has recorded over 234 adult patients whose average weight was less than 32 kilograms

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