By Matthias Williams
NEW DELHI, Aug 4 (Reuters) - India has asked UNICEF to stop distributing millions of dollars worth of nutrition aid to children, saying it had been done without permission and at the expense of local food to fight hunger.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said it had given severely malnourished children in two Indian states, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, high energy relief treatment known as "Ready to Use Therapeutic Food" (RUTF).
It said food provided locally was not enough for the children in a critical condition.
India, home to the most malnourished children in the world, grapples with a yawning wealth gap as years of high GDP growth and rising world status did not trickle down to millions of poor.
The Ministry for Women and Child Development said UNICEF had not informed the government about importing $2.4 million worth of RUTF in 2008 and said the money could have been spent elsewhere. "Such actions should not happen. Whatever they (UNICEF) have done, the damage should be contained and they should ship out (the RUTF). And their future action should be matched by their words," Joint Secretary Shreeranjan said.
"I can understand their sympathies, but sometimes emotions cannot sweep away the procedure and protocol involved."
Shreeranjan said the product’s effectiveness was not widely accepted and the health ministry should first approve it.
"Nothing should come behind our back. Nothing should be done in the name of emergency when we have not declared emergency."
UNICEF, which said it had a "strong working relationship" with the ministry, promotes the product as a life-saver in Sub-Saharan Africa.
"Children with severe acute malnutrition are at risk of imminent death and need immediate, life-saving treatment," UNICEF responded in a statement, adding the treatment was sanctioned by the World Health Organisation.
"Family foods or supplementary foods are not enough; these children need very specific treatment for their condition."
UNICEF said in a June report the global slowdown and high food and fuel prices had helped add 100 million hungry people to South Asia in the past two years.
UNICEF said more than 400 million are chronically hungry in the region — the highest level in 40 years — in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
(Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)