Globally, one in four children is stunted

India is home to the largest number of stunted children in the world

By DTE Staff
Published: Thursday 28 July 2016
At least 25 per cent of all cases are directly caused by chronic diarrhoea in the first two years of life. Credit: DFID/Flicker

Children in India, on average, are shorter than those born in the poorest African countries. A recent study by a London-based organisation, WaterAid, reveals that India alone, contributes nearly 40 per cent of the stunted children under the age of five. Stunted growth, which is a consequence of malnutrition in the first 1,000 days—from conception until the age of two—not only affects children’s height but also impairs their cognitive development.

Half of all cases of undernutrition are associated with repeated diarrhoea, intestinal worms and other infections due to inadequate sanitation. These infections prevent children from absorbing the nutrients they need to grow physically and mentally.

The report explains the scale of the problem by brings some alarming facts to the fore:

  1. Currently, more than 650 million people in the world do not have access to clean water and more than 2.3 billion people lack adequate sanitation.
  2. According to the study, about 315,000 children die every year due to diarrhoeal diseases, making it the second biggest killer of children under five, after pneumonia.
  3. Globally, one in four children under the age of five is stunted.
  4. The World Health Organization estimates that 50 per cent of undernutrition is linked to infections caused by poor sanitation and unhygienic practices, including not washing hands with soap.
  5. Stunted growth in about 54 per cent of cases is linked to open defecation, making children more susceptible to diarrhoeal illness and infection. At least 25 per cent of all cases are estimated to be directly caused by chronic diarrhoea in the first two years of life.
  6. With 48 million, India is home to the largest number of stunted children in the world.
  7. Timor-Leste has over 50 per cent stunted children below five years. About 700,000 people don’t have adequate sanitation.
  8. Ethiopia has the sixth highest number of stunted children in the world with 42 million people having no access to safe water. In a country of 99 million people, 71 million of them lack adequate sanitation.
  9. In Madagascar, 49 per cent of children are stunted with 3,000 child deaths from diarrhoea reported each year.
  10. Some 40 per cent of children in Zambia are stunted, putting it in the list of 10 countries with worst record of stunted growth in Africa. About 56 per cent of Zambians don’t have adequate sanitation.

Crucial days ahead

In 2015, world leaders had agreed on a new set of sustainable development goals with the sixth goal making a promise of providing adequate, equitable access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene for everyone.

The issue of stunted growth due to poor sanitation is likely to be brought up in different international platforms in the coming months. The Nutrition for Growth event at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, the World Bank’s summit on Stunting and Early Childhood Development in October 2016 and the G7 Summit in Italy in 2017 will be the right occasions for heads of states and international agencies to chalk out a pan to tackle this issue, especially when children are at the frontline.

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