The problem is partially rooted in institutions, who having imperceptibly supplanted traditional & cultural rites of passage often fail to recognize the extent of the need for robust, wholistic and sustained alternatives. Girls experiencing menarche not only require WASH infrastructure, but meaning; they not only need materials, space and privacy to change and dispose of menstrual products, but an environment free from aspersions, taboo and social restriction.
It is vital that we better manage our knowledge, to make better use of it for delivering universal access to water and sanitation. This requires new ways of capturing, sorting, weighing, curating, and translating knowledge into practical, bite-sized chunks. The Disease Control Priorities project, now in its third edition (www.dcp-3.org), is an excellent example of what this looks like in practice. It aims to compile the best available evidence across multiple areas of health to provide a snapshot of the coverage of services, the problems resulting from lack of services, the effectiveness of interventions, and the cost-effectiveness and cost-benefit of those options.
As authors of the WASH chapter of DCP-3, we wanted to share some of our key takeaways below:
Two years ago, I visited a village in Rudaki, a hilly district located to the south of Dushanbe, Tajikistan. It lies about forty kilometres from the capital, but it feels like a thousand kilometres away. On our drive up a hill, we saw women carrying buckets of water from a nearby spring. Moving further up, we saw children bathing and animals drinking from the same river. Once in the village, it was clear that life is largely shaped by water scarcity—the backyards were filled with pots and buckets, fuel and stoves for boiling water, and pit latrines that were no longer used because of lack of water. Although we could spot remnants of a once-functional water supply network, people living there had not had access to piped water for at least two decades. Without it, they were only able to practice the most basic forms of sanitation and hygiene.
The conditions we witnessed in Rudaki were harsh, but not rare. Located on the western tip of the Himalayas, Tajikistan is a country blessed with large fresh water resources in its lakes, rivers, and glaciers. Yet, access to safe drinking water and sanitation connected to a functioning sewer system is lacking, particularly for rural residents and the poor. Much of the existing infrastructure was built during the Soviet era and has not been upgraded for decades. Tajikistan is one of the few countries outside Africa that did not meet the Millennium Development Goal on drinking water and basic sanitation. Because poor water and sanitation conditions, together with poor nutrition and care, are key determinants of childhood stunting, Tajikistan’s childhood stunting rates remain high. Recent estimates indicate that in Tajikistan more than one in five children under the age of five are stunted and will not reach their full potential as adults.
In a new report, Glass Half Full: Poverty Diagnostic of Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Conditions in Tajikistan, we document the realities of Tajikistan’s WASH-deprived population. Our analysis builds on one of the largest data collection efforts of its kind – including national surveys of households and schools, water quality tests, ethnographic work, and case studies of existing WASH projects. It also includes poverty mapping and analysis of other secondary data, including a UNICEF nutrition survey that shared a subsample with our WASH survey.
Crowded slums, poor sanitation and unhealthy diets. It’s a potent cocktail and for too many families across the world, a daily reality. Right now, an estimated one billion people live in slums and that number is expected to double by 2030. Slums are where the many deprivations facing the urban poor collide, including lack of access to clean drinking water, sanitation, safe and nutritious foods, sufficient living space, durable housing and secure tenure (UN Habitat). They’re where human waste is routinely emptied into streets, canals, and garbage dumps. And where overcrowding and low rates of immunization and breastfeeding combine to exacerbate the already perilous problems children face.
Children growing up in these surroundings are at a higher risk of death and disease and are more likely to be chronically malnourished (Ezeh et al. 2017). For example, forthcoming World Bank research from Bangladesh shows that children living in slums are 50 percent more likely to be stunted than children living in other urban areas. This doesn’t just have implications for today - children who are stunted early in life go on to learn and earn less, and face a higher risk of chronic disease as they grow older. Tragically, these effects are often passed on to offspring, trapping families in poverty and malnutrition for generations, as per findings in a forthcoming World Bank report called Uncharted Waters.
Have you ever wondered how your life chances are affected by where you were born? Odds of being born at all are already miraculously small, but only one in ten of us is born into the relative security of a high-income country. What if you are born in Niger or in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)? Before you could even walk or talk, your challenges would be daunting. That's because, despite progress, deaths of children under five years old are more than twenty times higher than in the EU and nearly ten times higher than in China.
Even if you survived, you would confront another major risk to your development: malnutrition. In Niger and DRC, almost one out of every two children is stunted. Stunting has significant and long-lasting negative effects on early childhood development, impeding physiological and mental development, and making small children more vulnerable to disease. Starting off in life stunted is akin to starting a marathon with a broken ankle.
Today marks World Population Day and this year’s theme is “Family Planning: Empowering People, Developing Nations”. It is an opportune moment to reflect and continue the conversation on demographic trends that I started through my blog on fertility decline last month.
Sushila Devi, a mother of four in the rural Rohtas district of Bihar, India, has no significant assets and depends primarily on casual labor for income. She recently was able to take out a bank loan of INR 12,000 (US$180), which she used to construct a toilet in her family home
It was the Self-Help Group (SHG) in her village that persuaded Sushila of the importance of sanitation for her children’s health and nutrition, and helped her get the loan she needed. SHGs generally consist of 12 to 15 rural women, grouped into larger federations. They engage with formal financial institutions to help unbanked households access financial services, acting as platforms for standardized large-scale sensitization of community members on a variety of subjects.
Sushila’s actions are part of a larger change driven across Bihar by the recently launched Bihar Transformative Development Project (BTDP), commonly known as JEEViKA-II. This joint initiative of the Government of Bihar and the World Bank covers 300 (56 percent) of the blocks of rural Bihar. The project is working through SHGs to deliver awareness, training, finance, and monitoring on sanitation and nutrition in an integrated manner.
Last week, on April 20th, Matt Damon, co-founder of Water.org, addressed ministers of finance, water, and sanitation from across the world at the Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) Finance Ministers’ High Level Meeting at the 2017 World Bank-IMF Spring Meetings. The meeting focused on finding ways to fill the enormous financing gap via innovative financial solutions. Mr. Damon urged ministers to consider the full breadth of financing options to achieve the goal of providing safe, affordable, and sustainable water and sanitation for all.
In the village of Bharsauta in Uttar Pradesh, India, construction worker Vishwanath lives with his wife, four children and their elderly parents. Three years ago, the government paid to build a toilet in their house. But the job was not done well: the pit was too shallow, it overflows frequently, and the smell makes it suffocating to use.
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: