Families in the Sheohar District in India have been doing everything right. Fresh food choices, breastfeeding and a booming economy. Vivek is a child in one of these families — and he should be thriving. However, like so many millions of children under five around the world, he is suffering from malnourishment and stunting. Stunting is a term used to describe the impacts on a child’s height and intellectual capacity that come from malnutrition — its effects are irreversible.
So why in a time of massive economic growth, are kids like Vivek so impacted? In the New York Times this week, Gardiner Harris reports on research suggesting that the cause isn’t related to food. It’s related to toilets — the lack of them.
“Stunting affects 65 million Indian children under the age of 5, including one-third of children from the country’s richest families. This disconnect
between wealth and malnutrition is so striking that economists have concluded that economic growth does almost nothing to reduce malnutrition.” The difference between India and countries significantly less wealthy is that half of India’s population defecate outdoors. That’s 650 million people.
Even for those families with smart toilets and proper sanitation, water quality, regular sewerage leaks, and waste in town and city drain systems and rivers, make constant illness a way of life.
“Our realization about the connection between stunting and sanitation is just emerging,” said Sue Coates, chief of water, sanitation and hygiene at UNICEF India. “At this point, it is still just a hypothesis, but it is an incredibly exciting and important one because of its potential impact.”
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Image from the article, Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times