Via The New York Times, a genuinely shocking report: Poor Sanitation in India May Afflict Well-Fed Children With Malnutrition. Excerpt (but read the whole article):
Two years ago, Unicef, the World Health Organization and the World Bank released a major report on child malnutrition that focused entirely on a lack of food. Sanitation was not mentioned. Now, Unicef officials and those from other major charitable organizations said in interviews that they believe that poor sanitation may cause more than half of the world’s stunting problem.
“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 an hypothesis, but it is an incredibly exciting and important one because of its potential impact.”
This research has quietly swept through many of the world’s nutrition and donor organizations in part because it resolves a great mystery: Why are Indian children so much more malnourished than their poorer counterparts in sub-Saharan Africa?
A child raised in India is far more likely to be malnourished than one from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe or Somalia, the planet’s poorest countries. Stunting afflicts 65 million Indian children under the age of 5, including a 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 lessen malnutrition.
Half of India’s population, or at least 620 million people, defecates outdoors. And while this share has declined slightly in the past decade, an analysis of census data shows that rapid population growth has meant that most Indians are being exposed to more human waste than ever before.
In Sheohar, for instance, a toilet-building program between 2001 and 2011 decreased the share of households without toilets to 80 percent from 87 percent, but population growth meant that exposure to human waste rose by half.
“The difference in average height between Indian and African children can be explained entirely by differing concentrations of open defecation,” said Dean Spears, an economist at the Delhi School of Economics. “There are far more people defecating outside in India more closely to one another’s children and homes than there are in Africa or anywhere else in the world.”
Not only does stunting contribute to the deaths of a million children under the age of 5 each year, but those who survive suffer cognitive deficits and are poorer and sicker than children not affected by stunting. They also may face increased risks for adult illnesses like diabetes, heart attacks and strokes.
“India’s stunting problem represents the largest loss of human potential in any country in history, and it affects 20 times more people in India alone than H.I.V./AIDS does around the world,” said Ramanan Laxminarayan, vice president for research and policy at the Public Health Foundation of India.
The report later notes that India spends US$26 billion yearly on food and jobs programs but less than US$400 million on improving sanitation: "a ratio of more than 60 to 1."