sanitation_and_hygieneExtreme poverty makes access to clean water and nutritional food difficult for millions of people. Sanitation and hygiene also suffer as survival becomes the focus.

However, poor sanitation and hygiene often lead to diseases which cause diarrhea and fluid loss. These conditions can also result in malnutrition as more food is being expelled rather than processed and used. With a little help and knowledge, sanitation, hygiene and clean water can reverse the tide of disease and improve nutrition.

Take for example the situation in the Yarou Plateau village in Mali from the USAID blog:

“People used to use any open space for bathroom needs. Flies could easily find fecal matter lying around, and from there land on food, spreading diseases like diarrhea and intestinal worms. Fecal matter in open areas also contaminated the groundwater, which villagers use for drinking and preparing food. Diarrhea can worsen malnutrition, and the undernourished already have weakened immune systems — making them more susceptible to intestinal infections and more severe episodes of diarrhea.”

To combat the malnutrition these diseases cause, the World Health Organization has set some global targets for 2025:

  1. 40 percent reduction in the number of children under the age of five who have had their growth stunted
  2. 50 percent reduction in the number of women of a reproductive age who experience anemia
  3. 30 percent reduction in babies born with a low birth weight
  4. A halt in the increase of childhood obesity
  5. 50 percent increase in breastfeeding exclusivity during the first six months of a baby’s life

USAID says malnutrition “is an underlying factor in almost half of all child deaths” and also increases a child’s chance of dying from preventable illnesses such as pneumonia and diarrheal disease. These diseases cause anemia, loss of appetite and a decrease in the body’s ability to properly absorb nutrients.

Two years ago, conditions in the Yarou Plateau village changed for the better. The village has improved its sanitation by building more than 60 latrines and fixing ones they already had.

In addition to Yarou Plateau, more than 179 other villages have been able to improve sanitation and hygiene through support from USAID’s project WASHplus.

The program works not only to improve water, sanitation and hygiene but also to reduce “diarrheal diseases and malnutrition.” WASHplus introduces and promotes proper hand washing, water treatment and food preparation and storage.

Where proper sanitation and hygiene practices are initiated and properly implemented, the poor and those living in underdeveloped countries can avoid illness and get the nutrition they need to grow, thrive and break the cycle of poverty.

Drusilla Gibbs

Sources: USAID, WHO
Photo: Flickr