Sanitation’s had quite the month in the news.
A well-covered emerging body of research asserts that poor sanitation
– even for children with enough food – may be a significant factor in childhood stunting.
Globally, more than 162 million children under five years old are stunted, that is, more than two standard deviations below median height for age. They’re prevented from growing and developing properly.
Typically linked with malnutrition, stunting is largely irreversible. Long-term effects include reduced cognitive development, lower school achievement, below-average economic productivity in adulthood and adverse maternal reproductive outcomes. Fighting childhood stunting is a significant priority for reducing the global disease burden and for fostering economic development.
While access to nutritious food is a major factor in tackling the battle against stunting, the benefits of good food could be minimized if children live in an environment where they come in frequent contact with human waste.
A recent front-page story in The New York Times linked stunting and open defecation in India, and highlighted the plight of Vivek, a 1-year-old whose family fed him as much nutritious food as he would eat. But he’s still tiny and suffers from malnutrition. His family does not have a toilet, nor do most of the other members of his community.
In a place with a high concentration of open defecation, even healthy and accessible food cannot prevent stunting where children contract serious bacterial infections that reduce their ability to absorb nutrients.
August 12 is International Youth Day, a United Nations-designated day that highlights youth issues around the world. While this year’s theme is youth and mental health, Pure Water also underscores the importance of youth’s physical health, especially in the first five years of life. Providing children with access to safe water, proper hygiene education and improved sanitation enables them to grow up to be young, vibrant youth in their communities.