New Delhi: More than 42 percent of children below five years in the country are malnourished, a ‘complex and multi-dimensional’ problem which cannot be tackled by a single sector intervention, the government said on Thursday.

“As per the NFHS-3 Survey (National Family Health Survey conducted in 2005-06), the level of malnutrition amongst children below five years is 42.5 percent,” Minister of State for Women and Child Development Krishna Tirath said in a written reply in the Rajya Sabha.

“However, the level of malnutrition amongst children below three years has declined from 42.7 percent in 1998-98 (NFHS-2) to 40.4 percent in 2005-06,” Tirath said.

The Minister also noted that the problem of malnutrition is a very "complex, multi-dimensional and inter-generational in nature" which cannot be tackled by a single sector or programme.

The determinants of malnutrition, she said, include household food insecurity, illiteracy, poor access to health services, lack of safe drinking water, poor sanitation and other environmental conditions.

"Since there are multiple determinants of malnutrition, this cannot be addressed by single sector scheme or intervention alone. This requires multi sectoral, direct and indirect interventions," Tirath said.

The Integrated Child Development Service (ICDS) Scheme is one of the direct targeted intervention among various programmes being implemented by the government, she noted.

Replying to another question, Tirath also informed the House that 13,70,718 Anganwadi Centres (AWCs) have so far been sanctioned across the country, of which 13,03,300 are being operationalised.

"However, as per information available, 56,889 posts of anganwadi workers (AWWs) were vacant as of December 2011," she added.