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October 16, 2001
1817 IST

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Orissa: Over 50 tribal children die of malnutrition

Imran Khan in Bhubaneswar

Over 50 tribal children have died in an impoverished block of drought-prone Kalahandi district in Orissa in the last two and half months either due to malnutrition or hunger while some fell victim to diseases like diarrhoea.

Most of the deaths were reported from half a dozen villages in Thuamul Rampur block.

This shocking revelation was made by Kalahandi-based Sahbhagi Vikash Abhiyan (SVA), an organisation working among landless farmers and poor tribals.

Last week, the NGO had conducted an investigation after rediff.com reported the death of about two dozen tribals, including 13 children, in this block recently.

"A survey of just a few villages showed up deaths of not less than 50 children due to malnutrition and diseases in a span of two and a half months," said Jagdish Pradhan, president of SVA.

The investigators have made a list of children who died along with all relevant details - age, village, name of parents and date of death.

The children were between a few days old to eight years old.

In Melrapa village in Kerpai gram panchayat, which has 45 households, 10 children have died. Porpai village, which is almost inaccessible, has seen the death of four children while in Kachalakha village, about six children have died.

Though SVA could not reach all the villages, every village where it did go reported the death of at least one child, while some villages reported the death of adults.

Malnutrition, diarrhoea caused by consuming unhealthy food and lack of healthcare facilities were said to be the reasons for the casualties.

Even otherwise, adults and children in this area are underweight, Pradhan said.

Generally, tribals in the Kalahandi area suffer due to food shortage between July and September. Added to this, last year the crops failed resulting in a drought while this year saw an early monsoon followed by excess rains.

The untimely and excess rains not only damaged the crops, but also destroyed some wild fruits and minor forest products, which the tribals depend on during the rainy season.

Purnamati Nayak, a member of the Kerpai gram panchayat, told the SVA team during the survey that the toll may touch the hundred mark if they cover all the remote villages.

Ironically, state government-run health centres have no information about the malnutrition deaths.

According to a report of the chief district medical officer (CDMO) of Bhawanipatna (Kalahandi district headquarters), only nine tribal children had died in the period when the SVA undertook the survey.

Officially, three children died in Melghasa village under Nak Ruder gram panchayat, three in Podapali village under Kenpari gram panchayat, one each in Kacha, Levha and Majkhigaon villages under Kerpai gram panchayat.

Pradhan said that despite coming the Integrated Tribal Development Agency project, tribals in Thuamul Rampur block have hardly received any development assistance.

Tribals told the SVA team that despite reports of deaths, no government official has visited their villages till date, not to talk of the District Collector or the local MLA or MP.

Notably, the death toll of children in Thuamul Rampur block has surpassed that due to starvation in Kashipur block of Rayagada district.

Like in several other inaccessible pockets in backward western and southern Orissa where the poorest of the poor live, the public distribution system (PDS) does not exist in these villages.

Though rice is available in the open market in nearby areas, the tribals do not have the money to buy it.

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