<i>Char people suffer from malnourishment </i>
Noorjahan, on her way to buy a soap, caught our eyes. Mother of five, she is 33 years old but her devastated health gave her a look as if she was no younger than 45.
On our visit to her house, her children, aged between five and 15, were found taking their lunch around 3:00pm -- rice and dal and curry of some green leaves she had collected from a nearby field.
Thanks to the acute poverty and ignorance, a malnourished generation is growing up in the country's char (island) areas where government's nutrition programme has yet to reach and make an impact.
Around one lakh people living in Char Nasirpur, Diara Narikelbaria, Bandarkhola, Char Janajat, Kathalbari and Matbarer Char in Madaripur district are living a subhuman, if not inhuman, life deprived of food, education, medical and nutrition support.
“This is our everyday menu; we can rarely afford egg, milk or meat,” Noorjahan said offering a pale smile when asked why her children were taking such low nutrient food.
Many in the area rear hens and cows but the eggs and milk are sold off to earn money, she said as she released a deep, long sigh.
Noorjahan and her five malnourished children represent the women and children of the char areas where every mother gives birth to five to eight children. Most of these mothers and their children are underweight and there is nobody to educate them on nutrition.
Some two million children aged between six months and five years are suffering from acute malnutrition in the country, a nationwide survey conducted between November 2008 and January 2009 by the World Food Programme (WFP), UNICEF and Institute of Public Health Nutrition (IPHN) revealed.
Experts say around two percent of the country's total surface area is char where some 50 lakh people are living.
But unfortunately, these people are marginalised and while the percentage of underweight children under five is 43 in the country, the rate is 55 in char areas, said Dr Tahmeed Ahmed, who is a senior scientist and head of Nutrition Programme of ICDDR,B.
Contacted, National Nutrition Programme (NNP) authority said they were able to reach to 6.5 crore people of 172 upazilas in last 15 years.
"Following the WFP poverty map, we are running our programme that includes education on nutrition, awareness raising, counselling and supplementary feeding in 172 upazilas of the country's 42 districts,” said Dr Tahmina Hossain Talukder, assistant director of NNP.
She also said they are covering Madaripur sadar upazila but not Shibchar upazila, where Noorjahan lives.
Reaching the people living in char and hilly areas needs different planning. Those areas will be included in the NNP gradually, Tahmina said.
Terming the current malnutrition situation a silent disaster, Dr Tahmeed of ICDDR,B said only 20 to 30 percent of the population is now getting comprehensive nutrition support under various government and non-government programmes but it will make no progress if at least 70 percent people are not covered.
"It needs coordination from the highest level of the government to address the issue. The NNP alone cannot do much. It needs coordination between the ministries of food, health and education," he told us.