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New Report Reveals Countries Where Kids Are Hardest Hit by Stunting

WaterAid's 'Caught Short' Report Shows Lack of Toilets and Clean Water as Major Contributors to Malnutrition

/ -- NEW YORK, NY -- (Marketwired) -- 07/26/16 -- India, the world's second most populous nation, and a country with a serious sanitation crisis has now also been named the country where the highest number of children in the world are affected by stunting. The new report out this week from the international nonprofit, WaterAid, reveals that 48 million children in India, or two out of every five kids under the age of five, are suffering from stunted growth. The report, 'Caught Short', underscores how this affects their physical, cognitive and emotional development, and is linked to the lack of clean water and toilets.

Nigeria and Pakistan rank second and third with 10.3 and 9.8 million children affected by stunting, respectively. The Southeast Asian nation of Timor-Leste, and also one of the world's newest countries, tops the list for having the highest percentage of children who are affected by stunting, at 58% (please see report for full list).

Stunting is a lifelong consequence of malnutrition in the first two years of a child's life and is largely irreversible after that age. The report highlights that malnutrition is not just caused by a lack of food: a lack of access to a safe toilet, clean water and good hygiene practices also plays a major role. Repeated bouts of diarrhea -- often caused by dirty water and unhygienic environments -- are directly linked to malnutrition.

India: Sisters, ages 9 and 13, fall well below the growth standards for their age. They live in Karnataka State in an area with high rates of open defecation. Children often faint in class and 30% of students miss school because of illness at any one time. Both girls are looked after by their grandmother Yellama: 'My granddaughters have not grown according to their age. God knows why they are so short. They complain of stomach aches. Sometimes their hands and legs ache too.'

Madagascar: Zara, 8, explains how she often gets diarrhea and misses school. Her teacher says she's suffering from stunted growth as a result of not developing properly in the first two years of her life: 'I eat rice three times a day, with fish, but the water I drink is cloudy and muddy. I last had belly ache a few days ago. My brothers and sisters get belly ache a lot too. I have a baby sister who is two months old. She has already been sick with diarrhea.'

Timor-Leste: Many children like five-year-old Fidelia live without access to clean water and a safe, private toilet. Last year her three-year-old sister, Mercia, died after suffering from a severe bout of diarrhea and stomach pains. When Fidelia needs the toilet she has to find the nearest bush. Fidelia's mother has no choice but to collect dirty water from a stream for her family, which she knows is unsafe for her children to drink.

Ethiopia: When younger, Habtamu, 8, became sick from several bouts of diarrhea; his growth and development were directly affected. The toilet he uses is overflowing and unsanitary meaning diseases spread fast. A local healthcare worker explains the problem of malnutrition: 'Most children are diagnosed with diarrhea. Every other week I see a child vomiting and suffering diarrhea, which means they don't have enough time to absorb the nutrients in their systems.'

WaterAid policy analyst on health and hygiene, Megan Wilson-Jones, said:

"Even if children have plenty of good food they can still suffer from malnutrition. India has the highest number of people in the world -- more than half a billion -- practicing open defecation, which spreads deadly diseases and makes children more susceptible to diarrhea and other infections. So it is no surprise that so many children in India suffer from stunted growth."

Other key figures highlighted in the report include:

  • Globally 159 million children under the age of 5 are affected by stunting - one in four children of this age
  • Five or more cases of diarrhea before two years of age can lead to stunting
  • Malnutrition costs 11% of GDP annually across Africa and Asia

The Nutrition for Growth summit being held on August 4th, just ahead of the Rio Olympics' opening ceremony, will bring together world leaders and Olympians to highlight the importance of addressing malnutrition. These Olympians have reached their potential, but millions of children in the world will not, for the simple lack of good nutrition, clean water, decent toilets and a bar of soap.

WaterAid Chief Executive Sarina Prabasi said:

"The 2016 Summer Olympics are a moving reminder of the power of good health, physical fitness and our shared desire to achieve our greatest potential as individuals and as a global community. To think that one out of four children around the world today will not be able to achieve his or her full potential because of the lifelong effects of stunting is both devastating and alarming. As world leaders come together in Rio this week to discuss malnutrition, it's more important than ever to make safe water, decent toilet and good hygiene a priority in efforts to end malnutrition. Only when this happens can we hope for a future where all children can stand tall and achieve their dreams in the same way that the Olympians arriving this week in Rio have had the opportunity to do."

Last September, world leaders made commitments in the UN Global Goals to end hunger and malnutrition, and to reach everyone everywhere with clean water and sanitation, all by 2030. As we approach the first anniversary of the signing of the Global Goals, WaterAid is calling on governments and donors to make ambitious investments in water, sanitation and hygiene for all, to help end malnutrition and improve the lives of millions of the world's most vulnerable children.


Photo gallery

A selection of stunning photos is available for download from Ethiopia, India, Madagascar and Zambia, showing a group of 8-year-old children lined up underneath a chalk mark that indicates the global average height for their age (49 inches, or 4 feet tall) as outlined by the World Health Organization. The photos were captured in areas suffering from high rates of malnutrition and stunting, and show children measuring well below their recommended height. Additional photos with captions are also available, all of which can be downloaded with the link to the right.

Quiz: 'How much shorter?'
Ever wondered how much shorter you'd be if you grew up without a toilet? WaterAid have developed a new height calculator where you can find out how tall you might be if you grew up in a country like India, where 774 million people don't have access to a toilet. The calculator is available to embed into articles, the link is available at

About WaterAid
WaterAid is the #1 ranked international non-profit dedicated to helping the people living in the world's poorest communities gain access to safe water, toilets and hygiene. WaterAid has programs and influence in 37 countries across Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America and the Pacific region. Since 1981, WaterAid has reached 23 million people with safe water and, since 2004, 21 million people with toilets and sanitation.

Connect with WaterAid at and @WaterAidAmerica, or find out more at

  • Around 315,000 children die each year from diarrheal 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 $25 can help provide one person with access to safe water.

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