ON World Water Day, March 22,  more attention needs to be paid to the vicious cycle of dirty drinking water, diarrhoeal disease and chronic undernutrition, says anti-poverty advocacy group RESULTS International (Australia) and its partner Global Health Advocates (GHA) India.

“What governments and development agencies fail to fully realise is that undernutrition and water and sanitation are fundamentally linked, ” Samantha Chivers, Global Health Campaign Manager at RESULTS, said.

“There is a vicious cycle of water, disease and malnutrition going on. When children develop intestinal infections from drinking dirty water, their bodies deplete end their entire reserve of nutrients to fight the infection.

“These infections can also take away the body’s ability to absorb further nutrients from food, making them more susceptible to their next infection. This ongoing vicious cycle creates long-term undernutrition, which stunts their physical development,” Samantha continued.

“As many people in our region go without adequate sanitation, children unnecessarily suffer episodes of diarrhoeal diseases than could easily be prevented.”

Clean water and sanitation remains out of reach for many children across the Asia-Pacific region.

“Over fifty percent of the population of India lack access to a safe place to go to the toilet. As a result, children are widely exposed to microbes that cause diarrhoeal disease, and this contributes significantly to the fact that nearly half of all Indian children under five are malnourished,” Samantha added.

Under-nutrition causes a staggering burden of mortality: 7 million children under five die around the world each year, and almost half of these deaths are related to undernutrition. That amounts to nearly nine thousand children dying every day from malnutrition.

Despite this evidence, only 0.4 per cent of ODA goes to nutrition-related projects, and nutrition is not prioritised by most donors, including Australia.

“There has never been a more crucial time to recognise the links between water, sanitation, health and poverty,” Dr Bobby John, President of Global Health Advocates India in Delhi, said.

“While vaccines will protect against rotavirus caused diarrhea and typhoid, a vast majority of diarrhea cases can be averted simply by the provision of clean water. In that sense, clean water emerges as the single biggest and most cost effective vaccine against diarrheal diseases.”