Following the release of the Global Nutrition Report, WaterAid has warned world leaders hoping to tackle the global malnutrition crisis that they must not neglect the vital bedrock of water, sanitation and hygiene.

The Global Nutrition Report, released at the Global Nutrition Summit in Milan, includes a strong call to action for sectors including agriculture, health, rural development and water, sanitation and hygiene to work together effectively to address the underlying causes of malnutrition.

However, WaterAid warns that world leaders must now move from words to invest in urgent action if global goals to end malnutrition are to be met.

The report states that 155 million children under five globally are still stunted, the development of their brains and bodies damaged irreversibly as a result of undernutrition early in life.

Up to 50 per cent of undernutrition is related to infections and worm infestations caused by dirty water, poor sanitation and poor hygiene, making these interventions critical in tackling malnutrition.

One-third of the world’s population (2.3 billion) live without access to decent sanitation and 844 million are without access to clean water.

However, underpinning efforts to end malnutrition with expanding access to sustainable water, sanitation and hygiene services will help reduce incidences of diarrhoea and other infections, helping to reduce stunting and anaemia in pregnant women.

An estimated 613 million women of childbearing age suffer from anaemia, which is a leading cause of birth complications.

The report has also revealed another positive impact of introducing clean water to communities: reducing consumption of fizzy drinks which lead to obesity.

Rosie Wheen, WaterAid Australia Chief Executive, said, “This report clearly shows that malnutrition rates around the globe are still high, and not reducing fast enough. Poor water, sanitation and hygiene cause disease which contribute to undernutrition, and in turn make individuals – particularly children – more susceptible to further disease. We need to act now to break this vicious cycle.

“The report calls for cross-sectoral collaboration and integration but recognises that there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution. WaterAid urges all government ministries across finance, health, education, nutrition and other related areas to prioritise action on water, sanitation and hygiene. We want them to champion a multi-sectoral approach to tackling malnutrition.

“Through our experience in Cambodia, we know that high level political commitment can lead to improved cross-governmental working and more progress on delivering clean water and good sanitation, as well as better nutrition and health.”

The report cites Cambodia, where one in four children under five are underweight and one in three are stunted, as one positive example for the future. A National Strategy for Food Security and Nutrition has led to greater cooperation across ministries, including the establishment of a cross-government group to lead actions on nutrition and water, sanitation and hygiene.

Though progress in nutrition cannot quickly be measured, the country has seen gains in access to water and sanitation, with 78 per cent of the population having access to clean water today compared to 52.4 per cent in 2000, and 53.7 per cent with a decent toilet of their own today compared to 12.3 per cent in 2000.

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