Caught Short: how a lack of access to clean water and decent toilets plays a major role in child stunting

WaterAid’s new report reveals the extent of the global stunting crisis and the impact a lack of clean water and decent toilets is having on the futures of millions of children suffering from malnutrition.

28 Jul 2016

Around the world, 159 million children under the age of five are stunted – a consequence of malnutrition in the first two years of their life.

While malnutrition is mainly associated with a lack of food, WaterAid’s new report, Caught Short, highlights the major role a lack of access to clean water and decent toilets plays in this global crisis.

Download the Caught Short report >

Habtamu, 8, stands next to a stick marked red on the average height for his age
Habtamu, 8, stands next to a stick showing the average height for a child his age. He suffered from several bouts of diarrhoea when he was younger and his growth and development were directly affected as a result.

50% of malnutrition cases are linked to chronic diarrhoea caused by lack of clean water, decent sanitation and good hygiene, including handwashing with soap.

For a child, experiencing five or more cases of diarrhoea before the age of two can lead to stunting. Beyond this age, the effects are largely irreversible.

“Stunting not only makes children shorter for their age, but affects their emotional, social and cognitive development, meaning their lives and life chances are forever changed,” says Barbara Frost, WaterAid’s Chief Executive.

The Caught Short report reveals that:

  • India has the highest number of children suffering from stunting in the world – 48 million, or two in every five.
  • Nigeria and Pakistan rank second and third with 10.3 and 9.8 million children suffering from stunting respectively.
  • Timor-Leste has the highest percentage of children who are stunted, at 58%.
Sisters Manjula, 9, and Gouramma, 13, stand in front of a blackboard at their school in Karnataka State, India, showing how their height compares to the average for their age.
Sisters Manjula, 9, and Gouramma, 13, stand in front of a blackboard at their school in Karnataka State, India, showing how their height compares to the average for their age. Gouramma also suffers from hypothyroidism, which doctors say may in part explain her height. 

As the first anniversary of the Global Goals approaches, WaterAid is calling on world leaders to uphold the commitments they made to end hunger and malnutrition, and reach everyone everywhere with clean water and sanitation by 2030.

“Good food, the focus of most malnutrition programmes, will only get us halfway to the finishing line in addressing this crisis,” says Barbara Frost.

“We need to ensure governments make clean water, decent toilets and clean hands a priority in efforts to end malnutrition.”

Download the Caught Short report >

Read WaterAid Nigeria's statement on water and sanitation's part on the race to end malnutrition here >