Clean water, good sanitation and hygiene are essential to ending malnutrition, WaterAid said today following the launch of the 2016 Global Nutrition Report.
The 2016 report recognises the important role of clean water, good hygiene and ending open defecation in reducing undernutrition, a major form of malnutrition. It calls on governments to prioritise spending to end malnutrition, including through the provision of clean water, safe sanitation and good hygiene practices.
As much as 50% of undernutrition is linked to chronic diarrhoea, intestinal worms and other infections caused by unsafe water, poor sanitation and insufficient hygiene, including not washing hands with soap. These conditions leave children’s bodies unable to absorb nutrients properly, regardless of what quantity or type of food they eat.
The resulting stunting (low height for age) damages children’s physical and mental development forever, blighting their life chances and depriving the world of future potential thinkers, leaders and athletes.
There is also a serious economic cost. The report reveals that malnutrition costs Africa and Asia at least 11% of GDP annually, and that direct interventions – including nutritional supplements — even when expanded to cover 90% in the hardest hit countries, can only reduce 20% of stunting. This makes clean water, good sanitation and good hygiene critical components in addressing underlying causes.
Some 650 million people globally do not have access to clean water and 2.3 billion do not have access to basic sanitation. An estimated 315,000 children under five die each year from diarrhoeal illnesses linked to a lack of these basic human rights.
Arundati Muralidharan, WaterAid India’s Policy Manager (WASH in Schools, Health & Nutrition) said:
This report acknowledges that access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) is essential to ensure good nutrition. Lack of WASH services can cause repeated incidents of diarrhoea, hindering the body’s ability to absorb essential nutrients, leading children to be malnourished.
With 560 million people defecating in the open, India has the highest number of stunted children in the world. Safe and adequate WASH services are important disease prevention and health promotion measures, having the potential to improve health, nutritional status, wellbeing, and future productivity of India’s children.
This summer, world leaders are expected to convene in Rio ahead of the Olympics to discuss the importance of nutrition. WaterAid is calling on them to include water, sanitation and hygiene as part of their commitments and plans for ending malnutrition by 2030.