Crappy water and the science of sanitation. The Guardian, November 22, 2016. by by Mary-Ann Ochota, an anthropologist and author of Hidden Histories: a spotter’s guide to the British landscapehe
Stunting, death and malnutrition: why contaminated water has far more serious effects than the odd bout of diarrhoea
Eight year olds in Monze District, Zambia beneath a chalk line indicating the global average height for their age. 40% of children in Zambia suffer from stunted growth, the 10th highest rate in Africa. Photograph: WaterAid/Chileshe Chanda
At the start of this year, the UN recognised sanitation as a universal human right. The Sustainable Development Goals aim to achieve global sanitation by 2030. But despite these grand ambitions, and a hard-working WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) development sector, 2.4 billion people around the world still don’t have access to a proper toilet.
When we think of poor sanitation, thoughts usually turn to diarrhoea. If you start off healthy, and have the means to prevent dehydration, it’s not usually life threatening. But more than half a million under fives died from diarrhoea in 2013, with around 314,000 deaths directly attributable to poor WASH. And for people continuously exposed to a faecally-contaminated environment, the lack of a toilet can have far-reaching effects.
TOILET = GROW TALLER + THINK BETTER
Recent research has highlighted an indisputable link between toilets, malnutrition and irreversible stunting.
Malnutrition isn’t simply to do with a lack of food – it’s net nutrition that’s key, with access to nutritious food offset against losses to disease, and impairment in the ability to absorb nutrients.
The World Health Organisation estimates that 50% of cases of malnutrition in the world are due to repeated bouts of diarrhoea or intestinal worm infections caused by inadequate water and sanitation provision. Just five cases of severe diarrhoea in the first two years of a child’s life can result in stunting – short height for age – which is a measure for overall health. Stunting is largely irreversible after the age of two, and results in reduced lifelong immune capacity, retarded cognitive and emotional development, and poor physical health.
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