New study finds half a million young children die each year of diarrhoea

Posted On: 
2nd June 2017

More than half of child deaths from diarrhoea are caused by dirty water, poor sanitation and inadequate hygiene, WaterAid has said in response to a study published in the Lancet Infectious Diseases which finds that 499,000 children under 5 died of diarrhoea in 2015.

Of those 499,000 child deaths, an estimated 290,000 can be directly linked to dirty water, poor sanitation and poor hygiene.

The study also found that diarrhoea is the fourth leading cause of death for children, and that 42% of child deaths from diarrhoea occur in Nigeria and India alone.

Both countries also have high numbers of people without access to water and sanitation. In India, 60% of the population don’t have access to decent toilets while 6% don’t have access to clean water; in Nigeria, 71% of the population don’t have access to decent toilets while 32% are without access to clean water.

The two countries also have the world’s highest numbers of stunted children, as detailed in WaterAid’s Caught Short report.

Yael Velleman, senior policy analyst on health and hygiene at WaterAid, said:

“It is good news that fewer children are dying of diarrhoea. That achievement has come alongside improvements in water and sanitation access.

“However it is unacceptable that diarrhoea still claims the lives of nearly half a million children under five each year, as well as severely affecting the long-term health and wellbeing of those children who survive it. We know that 58% of those deaths are a direct result of poor sanitation, water and hygiene and might have been prevented.

“We also know that up to 50% of undernutrition is linked to chronic infection, diarrhoea and worm infestation, caused by dirty water and poor hygiene. Those children’s life chances have been limited by preventable illness – all for the lack of conditions we have been taking for granted in the UK for over 100 years.

“While it isn’t surprising that rotavirus remains the leading cause of diarrhoeal deaths, vaccinations for such causes are most effective when they are part of a broader package for preventing diarrhoea. This means better access to clean water, good sanitation and good hygiene practices for the world’s poorest people.”

WaterAid has been on the frontline of these kinds of approaches; in Nepal, we have been working with the Ministry of Health to promote good hygiene for child health during regular immunisation clinics. The approach includes promotion of breastfeeding, handwashing with soap, use of toilets and how to handle food properly to new mothers and fathers to reduce the risk of diarrhoea, using story-telling, games and other innovative approaches. 

WaterAid urges governments to increase efforts to meet their commitments to the Sustainable Development Goals, including achieving targets to reach everyone, everywhere with safe, clean drinking water, adequate sanitation and hygiene for all by 2030. These goals are essential to improving the health of children and their families.