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Helping children survive and thrive: How toilets play a part

Claire Chase's picture



While child mortality rates have plummeted worldwide, nearly one-third of all children under 5 in developing countries are stunted. Children who are stunted (having low height-for-age) suffer from a long-term failure to grow, reflecting the cumulative effects of chronic deficits in food intake, poor care practices, and illness. The early years of life, especially the first 1,000 days, are critical; if a child’s growth is stunted during this period, the effects are irreversible and have lifelong and intergenerational consequences on their future human capital and potential to succeed.  
 
For the water and sanitation community the year 2009 marked a turning point in our understanding of the role that Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) has on child stunting. A provocative Lancet article (Humphrey 2009) put forth the hypothesis that a key cause of child stunting is asymptomatic gut infection caused by ingestion of fecal bacteria. Small children living in poor sanitary environments are especially at risk, through frequent mouthing of fingers and objects during exploratory play, playing in areas contaminated with human and animal feces and ingesting contaminated food and water (Ngure et al. 2013). Researchers now estimate that up to 43 percent of stunting may be due to these gut infections, known as environmental enteric dysfunction (EED) (Guerrant et al. 2013).
 
Just last week estimates were released suggesting that poor sanitation is the second leading cause of child stunting worldwide (Danaei et al. 2016). In a key departure from previous work, the researchers defined risk as the sanitation level of a community, rather than an individual. This is consistent with mounting evidence showing that a community’s coverage of sanitation is more important than any one household’s (Andres et al. 2013). Across different studies, data sets and outcomes the evidence consistently shows that a threshold of around 60–70 percent household usage within a community is needed before the health and nutrition benefits of sanitation begin to accrue. Studies that have focused on an individual’s toilet use as a predictor, rather than a community’s use, may have vastly underestimated the impacts (Hunter and Prüss-Ustün 2016).  
 
As we advance our understanding of the ways in which a poor sanitary environment impacts growth in small children, we can better design water and sanitation interventions to target these pathways. While there is a role for multi-sectoral interventions, which can simultaneously target the underlying determinants of child undernutrition, such as food security, access to health services, and childcare practices — there are ways that the water sector can adapt its own approaches so that they are more nutrition-sensitive, and more impactful on nutrition. Here are four key actions:

Addressing the urban sanitation crisis: Time for a radical shift

Martin Gambrill's picture

Co-authors:

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation – Jan Willem Rosenboom
The University of Leeds – Barbara Evans
Emory University – Christine Moe & Eduardo Perez
The World Bank – Sophie Trémolet, Valérie Sturm, Clémentine Stip
WaterAid – Andrés Hueso
Plan International – Darren Saywell

Children in Maputo, Mozambique 
Photo credit: 
Isabel Blackett/The World Bank

A successful city is economically and culturally vibrant, healthy, safe, clean and attractive to business and tourism, and provides quality of life to its citizens. This vision is appealing but remains hard to realize as developing cities have to cope with changing demographics and climate with limited financial and human resources. The sustainable development goals have given a new impetus for cities to be inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable (SDG11), ensure citizens’ health and wellbeing (SDG3) and secure access to sustainable water and sanitation services (SDG6).

World Toilet Day on November 19th is the opportunity to remind ourselves of a few facts and propose a set of guiding principles for a renewed and revitalized urban sanitation agenda.

Looking ahead towards a water-secure world for all

Guangzhe CHEN's picture

To many people, it is a surprise to learn that in an age of such advanced technology, at least 663 million people still lack access to basic needs, like safe drinking water, or that 2.5 billion people lack access to sanitation, such as a toilet or latrine. And while much progress has been made, receiving safe drinking water 24 hours a day, seven days a week simply by turning a tap is still a dream for many in the developing world.
 
Even fewer realize this is not just a problem for families, but also for those on which families rely and that also need water: the farmers who grow the families’ food, the environment that protects and sustains their homes and communities, the businesses that employ them, the cities that house them, the schools that educate their children, the clinics and hospitals that treat them, and even the power plants that generate their electricity.
 
Why does this challenge persist? How can this challenge be met? And an increasingly urgent question: is there enough water to go around?

How we help countries track and report on the Sustainable Development Goals on water, sanitation and hygiene

Ana María Oviedo's picture
Enumerators in Ecuador collecting water sample
for water quality test.
Credit: World Bank team in Ecuador

Over the last few years, the international community has been busy establishing new indicators for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which officially replaced the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for the period 2015-2030. SDG #6: Ensure access to water and sanitation for all, seeks to reduce the incidence of malnutrition, communicable diseases, and inequities that are directly related to lack of access to improved sources of drinking water (affecting 663 million people worldwide) and sanitation (which 2.4 billion people still lack). This new goal implies a commitment by countries to monitor and report on their progress, similarly to what was done for the MDGs, but with much more detail.
 
From MDGs to SDGs: What’s New for Water and Sanitation?
 
Under the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), countries were requested to report the coverage of water and sanitation, distinguishing between “improved” and “unimproved” coverage. The WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation (JMP), established specific indicators for each, using definitions that could be captured with information from standard household surveys, which typically rely on self-reported questions on access to services collected from a nationally representative sample of households.

Promoting partnership for a water-secure world

Jennifer J. Sara's picture

Also available in 中文

The global water community is gathering in Stockholm for World Water Week 2016. This year’s theme, “Water for Sustainable Growth,” comes at a critical time, as we are mobilizing to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in which water plays an essential part
 
Water touches nearly every aspect of development.  It drives economic growth, supports healthy ecosystems, and is fundamental for life.  However, water can threaten health and prosperity as well as promote it.  Water-related hazards, including floods, storms, and droughts, are already responsible for 9 out of 10 natural disasters, and climate change is expected to increase these risks.  As water resources become increasingly strained, the risk of conflict and instability may also grow.
 
Over the next two decades and beyond, ‘thirsty agriculture’ and ‘thirsty energy’ competing with the needs of ‘thirsty cities’ will place new and increasing demands on the water sector. Over 4 billion people currently live in areas where water consumption is greater than renewable resources for part of the year – a number that will continue to increase.

3 steps to improve rural sanitation in India - a pathway to scale and sustainability

Joep Verhagen's picture
Child using a latrine in Rajasthan. 
Photo credit: World Bank

Almost 600 million Indians living in rural areas defecate in the open. To meet the ambitious targets of the Indian government’s Swachh Bharat Mission Grameen (SBM (G)) – the rural clean India mission – plans to eliminate open defecation by 2019. SBM (G) is time-bound with a stronger results orientation, targeting the monitoring of both outputs (access to sanitation) and outcomes (usage). There is also a stronger focus on behavior change interventions and states have been accorded greater flexibility to adopt their own delivery mechanisms. 
 
The World Bank has provided India with a US$1.5 billion loan and embarked on a technical assistance program to support the strengthening of SBM-G program delivery institutions at the national level, and in select states in planning, implementing and monitoring of the program.

Fecal sludge management is the elephant in the room, but we have developed tools to help

Peter Hawkins's picture

Recently developed Fecal Sludge Management tools to help address this important, but often-ignored, urban sanitation issue.

A global challenge

In the rapidly expanding cities of the developing world, sanitation is of ever growing importance – more people mean more exposure to fecal pollution, and therefore a greater risk to public health.  The widely accepted solution, taught to sanitary engineers worldwide, is to flush human waste into sewers which take it to large, centralized treatment facilities. 

This requires expensive infrastructure, a plentiful water supply, skilled operators and a substantial and reliable stream of operating funds. This means that in most low- and middle-income country cities, the sewerage service is only available to a small and decreasing proportion of the population, as investments cannot keep up with the explosive urban growth.

Can we really put a price on meeting the global targets on drinking-water and sanitation?

Guy Hutton's picture

When the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were signed, a commitment was made to deliver improved water and sanitation to half the unserved population. This ambitious target was met for water but not for sanitation, with 2.4 billion people still lacking improved sanitation in 2015. The first part of our new study, The Costs of Meeting the 2030 Sustainable Development Goal Targets on Drinking Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene, estimates the cost of finishing what was started as part of the MDG target.

The study found that globally current levels of financing are likely to cover the capital costs of achieving universal basic WASH by 2030. The global capital costs amount to $28.4 billion per year (range: $13.8 to $46.7 billion). However, despite this good news, the current allocations need to be redirected and there will need to be significantly greater spending on sanitation (accounting for 69% of the cost of basic universal WASH) and operations and maintenance, as well as in the most off-track countries which are mainly in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

But this isn’t the full story.

Better together: Toilets and nutrition

Claire Chase's picture
​Studies show children grow taller and perform better
on cognitive tests in communities where residents have
access to improved sanitation and do not defecate
in the open. Photo credit: World Bank

Microfinance for water and sanitation: How one small loan makes a huge difference

John Ikeda's picture
Photo Credit: Water.org via Flickr under Creative Commons
Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license

This blog originally appeared on the The Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP) Microfinance Blog. Housed at the World Bank, CGAP is a global partnership of 34 leading organizations that seek to advance financial inclusion. The blog highlights a recent study which concludes that water and sanitation microfinance can be good for Microfinance Institutions, good for the development community, and -most importantly- good for borrowers and their families.

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