Water and sanitation essential in fight against malnutrition

14 Jun 2016

Clean water, good sanitation and hygiene are essential to ending malnutrition, WaterAid said today following the launch of the 2016 Global Nutrition Report.

The 2016 report recognises the important role of clean water, good hygiene and ending open defecation in reducing undernutrition, a major form of malnutrition. It calls on governments to prioritise spending to end malnutrition, including through the provision of clean water, safe sanitation and good hygiene practices.

As much as 50% of undernutrition is linked to chronic diarrhoea, intestinal worms and other infections caused by unsafe water, poor sanitation and insufficient hygiene, including not washing hands with soap. These conditions leave children’s bodies unable to absorb nutrients properly, regardless of what quantity or type of food they eat.

The resulting stunting (low height for age) damages children’s physical and mental development forever, blighting their life chances and depriving the world of future potential thinkers, leaders and athletes.

There is also a serious economic cost. The report reveals that malnutrition costs Africa and Asia at least 11% of GDP annually, and that direct interventions – including nutritional supplements -- even when expanded to cover 90% in the hardest hit countries, can only reduce 20% of stunting. This makes clean water, good sanitation and good hygiene critical components in addressing underlying causes.

Some 650 million people globally do not have access to clean water and 2.3 billion do not have access to basic sanitation. An estimated 315,000 children under five die each year from diarrhoeal illnesses linked to a lack of these basic human rights.

WaterAid Chief Executive Barbara Frost said:

This report acknowledges that clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene are essential to ensure good nutrition. It’s unacceptable that millions of children, having survived the difficult early years, still face an uncertain and unhealthy future for the simple lack of clean water and a basic toilet. We cannot eradicate extreme poverty if we don’t work together, and that means reaching everyone everywhere with clean water and sanitation by 2030, to help save lives, end malnutrition and allow children to become educated and thrive as productive members of their communities.


This summer, world leaders are expected to convene in Rio ahead of the Olympics to discuss the importance of nutrition. WaterAid is calling on them to include water, sanitation and hygiene as part of their commitments and plans for ending malnutrition by 2030.


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Notes to editors:

About WaterAid

WaterAid’s vision is of a world where everyone has access to safe water and sanitation.  The international organisation works in 37 countries across Africa, Asia, Central America and the Pacific Region to transform lives by improving access to safe water, hygiene and sanitation in some of the world’s poorest communities.  Since 1981, WaterAid has reached 23 million people with safe water and, since 2004, 21 million people with sanitation.  For more information, visit, follow @WaterAidUK or @wateraid or @WaterAidPress on Twitter, or visit us on Facebook at

  • Around 315,000 children die each year from diarrhoeal diseases caused by dirty water and poor sanitation. That’s nearly 900 children each day, or one child every two minutes.
  • Over 650 million people (around one in ten) are without safe water
  • Over 2.3 billion people (around one in three) live without improved sanitation
  • For every £1 invested in water and sanitation, an average of £4 is returned in increased productivity.
  • Just £15 can help provide one person with access to safe water.