NEW DELHI (AlertNet) - India's "unacceptably high" levels of child malnutrition are a "national shame", Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Tuesday, adding that almost half the children in the country were still under-weight despite two decades of rapid economic growth.
Despite doubling the size of its economy between 1990 and 2005, Asia's third-largest economy has not yet been able to wipe out the mass hunger which still haunts rural landscapes and lurks in the alley ways of urban slums.
"I have said earlier on a number of occasions and I repeat that the problem of malnutrition is a matter of national shame," Singh told participants at the launch of a new survey on malnutrition.
"Despite impressive growth in our GDP (gross domestic product), the level of under-nutrition in the country is unacceptably high. We have also not succeeded in reducing this rate fast enough."
According to the 2011 Hunger and Malnutrition survey conducted by the Nandi Foundation, 42 percent of Indian children under five years old are underweight - almost double the rate of sub-Saharan Africa.
The survey, which examined the nutritional status of almost 110,000 children across the country, said the consequences of this "nutrition crisis" were enormous.
It is an attributable cause of up to half of all child deaths in the country, said the survey, adding that economic losses associated with malnutrition are estimated to be at 3 percent of India's annual GDP.
Singh said the results of the survey are both worrying - due to the high levels of malnutrition found - but also encouraging as one child in five has reached an acceptable healthy weight during the last seven years.
"We need to focus on districts where malnutrition levels are high and where conditions causing malnutrition prevail," he said.
"The health of our economy and society lies in the health of this generation. We cannot hope for a healthy future for our country with a large number of malnourished children."
Editing by Rebekah Curtis