ADDIS ABABA (HAN) November 19, 2015. Public Diplomacy & regional Security. According to a report Improving Nutrition Outcomes with Better Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, from UNICEF, USAID and the World Health Organization, Ethiopia mobilized community workers and achieved the largest decrease globally in the proportion of the population who defecate in the open.
Other countries that show progress in both access to sanitation and nutritional status of to their children are Pakistan, Mali, and Democratic Republic of Congo. The report 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 access to toilets is endangering millions of the world’s poorest children, UNICEF said, pointing to emerging evidence of links between inadequate sanitation and malnutrition.
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).
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.”
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.
“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.”