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Caught short: what have toilets got to do with how tall you are?

Not having access to clean water or a decent toilet means millions of children around the world are suffering from malnutrition – stunting their height as well as their hopes. Our new report, Caught short, reveals the extent of the crisis.

26 Jul 2016

For many of us, when we hear the word malnutrition, we think of people not having enough food to eat.

But WaterAid’s latest report, Caught short, reveals that millions of children around the world are suffering from stunting – a consequence of malnutrition – because they don’t have access to clean water and a decent place to go to the toilet.

: In Madagascar, eight-year-old Zara often gets diarrhoea, which doesn’t just mean missing out on school. It also means she’s suffering from stunted growth.
In Madagascar, eight-year-old Zara often gets diarrhoea, which doesn’t just mean missing out on school. It also means she’s suffering from stunted growth.

Stunting affects children, like Zara, who are malnourished during the first two years of their life.

After this age, the effects are all but impossible to reverse – and the consequences last a lifetime, affecting a child’s physical, mental and emotional development.

In India, where 48 million children (two in every five) are suffering from stunting, sisters Manjula, 9, and Gouramma, 13, fall well below the expected height for their age. Gouramma also suffers from hypothyroidism, which doctors say may in part explain her height. 

The girls live in Karnataka State, an area where many people are forced to defecate outside because of a lack of decent toilets.

Children at their school often faint in class and pupils frequently miss lessons because of illness.

“My granddaughters have not grown according to their age,” says their grandmother Yellama. “They complain of stomach aches. Sometimes their hands and legs ache too.”

Sisters Manjula and Gouramma stand in front of a blackboard at their school, showing how their height compares to the average for their age.
Sisters Manjula and Gouramma stand in front of a blackboard at their school, showing how their height compares to the average for their age.

Caught short also reveals the extent of the stunting crisis. Globally, 159 million children under the age of five are affected – one in four children.

“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.

“Good food, the focus of most malnutrition programmes, will only get us halfway to the finishing line in addressing this crisis. We need to ensure governments make clean water, decent toilets and clean hands a priority in efforts to end malnutrition.”

Read the Caught short report >

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As we approach the first anniversary of the Global Goals, we need to remind world leaders to keep their promises to end hunger and malnutrition, and reach everyone everywhere with clean water and sanitation by 2030.

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