Far Eastern Economic Review

October 16 1971

Children of Death

By Tapan Das Gupta

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Calcutta: Purna Chandra Rai stood motionless outside the 30-bed hospital at the Thakurbari refugee camp, in West Dinajpur. In his arms was his 12-year-old son, emaciated, hardly able to breathe. Malnutrition and dysentery had wrecked his digestive system. "He is my third son," said Purna Chandra. His two other sons had died in the camp from the same ailment.

This case is common. Helpless mothers tearfully pleading with doctors to save their ailing children are a familiar sight in West Bengal refugee camps. The floods have further aggravated the situation in some areas of North Bengal and Nadia by disrupting supplies and corrupting drinking water.

The reason for this chronic malnutrition is quite simple. The government supplies a daily diet of 400 grammes of rice and 100 grammes of pulses a head, plus some vegetables whenever they are available. This diet is totally insufficient for children and nursing mothers unless supplemented by additional protein food. The refugee children, deprived of these proteins, fall an easy prey to diseases like blood dysentery and diarrhoea. No medicine works then; the patient loses the capacity to digest food - even a single spoonful may prove fatal.

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