With around 48 million, India has the largest number of stunted children, says WaterAid
Although India is said to be the world’s fastest growing economy in the world, it is home to the largest number of stunted children in terms of volumes in the world, much ahead of smaller economies like Nigeria, Pakistan and Ethiopia. The startling revelations have come to the fore in a report titled ‘Caught Short – How Lack of Toilets and Clean Water Contributes to Malnutrition’ brought out by WaterAid, an international development charity. The report reveals 48 million children in India, or two in every five under the age of five, are suffering from stunted growth, which affects their physical development as well as cognitive and emotional development.
Mentioning that India has the highest concentration in the world of people practising open defecation, the report talks about how high rates of open defecation have a strong correlation with increased rates of stunting, as faeces in the environment contaminate hands and surroundings and spread disease and infection. Nigeria and Pakistan rank second and third with 10.3 and 9.8 million children stunted respectively. The Southeast Asian nation of Timor-Leste tops the list of countries having the highest percentage of children who are stunted at 58 per cent.
It must be noted that globally 159 million children under the age of five are stunted – one in four children of this age. Stunting is defined as children having low height for age and indicates that children have not developed as they should, physically or cognitively. Stunting is a consequence of malnutrition in the first 1,000 days from conception until age two. It is largely irreversible after the age of two, making those first 1,000 days critical to a child’s development.
As per the report which was released recently, currently, more than 650 million people in the world do not have access to clean water and more than 2.3 billion do not have access to an adequate toilet. Diarrhoeal diseases caused by dirty water and poor sanitation are the second biggest killer of children under five after pneumonia, taking 315,000 young lives every year. Even those children who survive severe bouts of diarrhoea are at risk of having their lives, and life chances, forever changed.
The report says that some 140,000 children under five in India die each year of diarrhoeal diseases related to the lack of these basic services. Around 50 per cent of malnutrition cases are linked to infections, including chronic diarrhoea, caused by lack of safe water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) including hand washing with soap. It says that in the developing world, lack of clean water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) is a major contributor to malnutrition and one result of this is stunting, where severe and prolonged undernutrition makes children shorter than normal for their age and affects their emotional, social and cognitive development.
According to WaterAid India’s policy manager Arundati Muralidharan, “Water, sanitation and hygiene are important determinants of nutrition. With open defecation rampant in India, frequent diarrhoea hinders the ability of children to absorb nutrients. India has made significant efforts to improve the nutritional status of children and women, but the beneficial impact of these efforts are threatened by poor WASH.”