Some 2.4 billion people globally do not have toilets and 946 million – roughly 1 in 8 of the world’s population – defecate in the open. Meanwhile, an estimated 159 million children under 5 years old are stunted (short for their age) and another 50 million are wasted (low weight for age).
A report issued today, Improving Nutrition Outcomes with Better Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, from UNICEF, USAID and the World Health Organization, for the first time brings together years of research and case studies which demonstrate the link between sanitation and malnutrition. More importantly, it provides guidance for action.
Lack of sanitation, and particularly open defecation, contributes to the incidence of diarrhoea and to the spread of intestinal parasites, which in turn cause malnutrition.
“We need to bring concrete and innovative solutions to the problem of where people go to the toilet, otherwise we are failing millions of our poorest and most vulnerable children,” said Sanjay Wijesekera, head of UNICEF’s global water, sanitation and hygiene programmes. “The proven link with malnutrition is one more thread that reinforces how interconnected our responses to sanitation have to be if we are to succeed.”
Diarrhoea accounts for 9 per cent of the deaths of children under 5 years old each year and is essentially a faecal-oral disease, where germs are ingested due to contact with infected faeces. Where rates of toilet use are low, rates of diarrhoea tend to be high.
Children under 5 years old suffer 1.7 billion cases of diarrhoea per year. Those in low income countries are hit hardest, with an average of three episodes per year. The highest frequency is in children under 2 years old, who are weakest and most vulnerable. Multiple episodes of diarrhoea permanently alter their gut, and prevent the absorption of essential nutrients, putting them at risk of stunting and even death.
|Some 300,000 children under 5 years old die per year – over 800 every day – from diarrhoeal diseases linked to inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene. The poorest children in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia are particularly at risk.
Intestinal parasites such as roundworm, whipworm and hookworm, are transmitted through contaminated soil in areas where open defecation is practiced. Hookworm is a major cause of anaemia in pregnant women, leading to malnourished, underweight babies.
– During the emergency linked to conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, integrated nutrition and WASH interventions were used for displaced communities. Children under 5 years old saw significantly reduced undernutrition and waterborne diseases. Around 60 per cent of the population constructed latrines and some 90 per cent of malnourished children returned to normal weight during a 12-month period.“There are no excuses not to act on access to toilets, even in the poorest communities, or during emergencies,” said Wijesekera. “On the other hand, there are millions of reasons – each one a child who is stunted or wasted, or worse, who sickens and dies – to treat this with the urgency it deserves.”
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