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"Caught Short"

New report reveals countries where kids are hardest hit by stunting.
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Jul 25, 2016
The Nutrition for Growth summit being held on August 4th, just ahead of the Rio Olympics’ opening ceremony, will bring together world leaders and Olympians to highlight the importance of addressing malnutrition. These Olympians have reached their potential, but millions of children in the world will not, for the simple lack of good nutrition, clean water, decent toilets and a bar of soap.

Sarina Prabasi

CEO, WaterAid

India, the world’s second most populous nation, and a country with a serious sanitation crisis has now also been named the country where the highest number of children in the world are affected by stunting. The new report out this week from the international nonprofit, WaterAid, reveals that 48 million children in India, or two out of every five kids under the age of five, are suffering from stunted growth. The report, ’Caught Short’, underscores how this affects their physical, cognitive and emotional development, and is linked to the lack of clean water and toilets.

Nigeria and Pakistan rank second and third with 10.3 and 9.8 million children affected by stunting, respectively. The Southeast Asian nation of Timor-Leste, and also one of the world’s newest countries, tops the list for having the highest percentage of children who are affected by stunting, at 58% (please see report for full list).


Stunting is a lifelong consequence of malnutrition in the first two years of a child’s life and is largely irreversible after that age. The report highlights that malnutrition is not just caused by a lack of food: a lack of access to a safe toilet, clean water and good hygiene practices also plays a major role. Repeated bouts of diarrhea - often caused by dirty water and unhygienic environments - are directly linked to malnutrition. 

Other key figures highlighted in the report include:

  • Globally 159 million children under the age of 5 are affected by stunting - one in four children of this age
  • Five or more cases of diarrhea before two years of age can lead to stunting
  • Malnutrition costs 11% of GDP annually across Africa and Asia

Last September, world leaders made commitments in the UN Global Goals to end hunger and malnutrition, and to reach everyone everywhere with clean water and sanitation, all by 2030. As we approach the first anniversary of the signing of the Global Goals, WaterAid is calling on governments and donors to make ambitious investments in water, sanitation and hygiene for all, to help end malnutrition and improve the lives of millions of the world’s most vulnerable children.