Malnutrition Stalks Juang Kids in Odisha
Mamata, the third daughter of Santi Pradhan of Nagada village in the Juang tribe-dominated hillock of Sukinda block in Jajpur district of Odisha, is one of the malnourished children. She has a ghastly look on her face. Her shriveled skin, emaciated body and hollow eyes speak eloquently about the state of her health. Her eyes were sunk into her faces. She was monstrously thin and clasping her mother. The fear of death still flashes across her face and she appears to have reconciled herself to her imminent death. Like Mamata the fate of many malnourished children is hanging in balance.
” My two -year-old son Kabula died on June 25, 2016 after suffering from malnutrition. Before his death, he resembled a bag of bones. We have not seen any benefits, despite government claims. If our children fall sick we cannot do much as the nearest government hospital in Sukinda is very far from here. Healthcare is non-existent in these areas. We drink water from the water-falls and streams,”said Rabi Pradhan of Nagada.
Around 34 Juang children have already died of malnutrition since January and many children are fighting death in the villages of Nagada, Tumuri, Talanagada, Bhuisala, Gohiasala, Naliadaba, Taldiha, Ashokjhar and other villages under Chungudipala Gram Panchayat of Sukinda block. Around 250 Juang kids living in these villages are thought to be severely malnourished as a result of the hunger crisis now unfolding in these remote and inaccessible villages. Many tribal villages on the hills are without proper roads and facilities like electricity, drinking water and primary health centers. “Around 4500 people live in our Gram Panchayat under miserable conditions,” said Renuka Deuri, Sarapanch of Chingudipala Gram Panchayat.
“Around 34 Juang children have already died since January and many children are fighting death . There could be other deaths occurring in small hamlets and remote villages on the hillocks which we know nothing about. If the authorities will not provide proper food, drinking water and medicines, the number of severely malnourished children will increase, and then they will die. Poor health and communication infrastructure keeps the Juang villages disconnected from mainstream population,” added Deuri.
It is not known exactly how many children have died of malnutrition. Locals say around 34 children have died since January, but as per the official version 22 kids have died .
When contacted Rashmiprava Khatua, Public Health Extension Officer (PHEO) of Community Health Center (CHC) of Sukinda, said, “Since January, 22 kids have already died. Since June to till date seven children have died. The Community Health Center (CHC) at Sukinda and TATA hospital in Sukinda play a key role in the crisis by treating severely malnourished children. Women bring their children from up to 20 km away to be treated at the CHC at Sukinda. This Juang tribe-dominated Chugudipala Gram Panchayat’s malnutrition crisis is a chronic and debilitating problem. In addition to food aid, these families need potable water. Juang people collect water from potentially unsafe sources, which expose them to diarrhea, which can cause malnutrition and vice-versa.” When contacted Debadatta Mohant, Block Development Officer of Sukinda said, “It is not possible on the part of the authorities to dig tube wells on the hillocks where Juang people live. We told them many times by organising awareness camps to drink boiled water. But they did not pay any heed to our advice. Juang people often take handia (rice beer). They prepare handia with contaminated water from the streams as a result of which they suffer from water borne diseases and other aliments.”
Sukinda Valley contains 97 per cent of India’s chromites ore deposits and is one of the largest open cast chromites ore mines. The vast mineral wealth of Sukinda block in the district is exploited by the mine mafias and big companies in a clear nexus with the leaders of ruling parties while the tribals live below the poverty line. “Malnutrition is the major cause of premature births as well as deaths of infants in this area, but no steps are taken by the health department to provide special medical care to them. The officials are blissfully ignorant about the plight of the villagers of this poverty-stricken area and the dire conditions under which they are surviving. The lives of these children could have been saved if the doctors and officials of the health department had taken this matter seriously and shifted these children to the government-run hospitals for timely treatment,” alleged Prafulla Samantray, president of state unit of Lok Shakti Abhajan.
Samantray further stated that the health department, which has utterly failed to provide medical help to the tribal people over the years, is trying to find some excuses for its lapses. He has also demanded the government to order a comprehensive inquiry into the death of the tribal children in the areas.
After the alleged malnutrition death of many Juang kids, the adminstration has taken note of the sorry plight of the tribals and swung into action by ordering free kitchen and medical camps in these villages.
“Obviously, the tribal people are facing health-asrelated problems for which we have decided to start free kitchens and free medical camps in these remote villages,”said S.K. Mallick the district collector of Jajpur.
by Ashis Senapati, from Jajpur