WASH & Nutrition

Integrating Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene into Nutrition Programming

Undernutrition is the underlying cause of 3.5 million child deaths each year (Black, 2008, The Lancet). A vicious cycle exists between diarrhea and undernutrition: children with diarrhea eat less and are less able to absorb the nutrients from their food; malnourished children are more susceptible to diarrhea when exposed to fecal material from their environment. Further, often the most vulnerable children do not have access to the health services that can mean the difference between life and death in the case of acute diarrhea. 

Undernutrition is not just lack of food.  Three factors are important for adequate nutrition: 

  • Access to food
  • Maternal and child care practices
  • Access to water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) to prevent diarrhea

Other factors can also inhibit a child’s access to food—poverty, discrimination, and political marginalization to name a few.

New research is underway to document the evidence base for the connection between WASH and undernutrition. Currently, USAID, with WHO and UNICEF, is collecting existing evidence and documenting concrete programming actions that integrate WASH and nutrition to prevent diarrheal disease and undernutrition and improve child health outcomes. Too often, low-cost, high-impact WASH interventions are overlooked. Yet these simple actions can prevent diarrhea and undernutrition even in hygiene-challenged environments.

In addition, WASHplus has developed guidance and tools to assist country programs to integrate WASH into nutrition policy and programming such as:

  • Water, Hand Washing, Sanitation, and Food Hygiene Guidance
  • Integrating WASH in Nutrition Assessment 
  • Integrating WASH into Nutrition Counseling and Promotion
  • Integrating WASH into Support Activities 

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The information provided on this web site is not official U.S. Government information and does not represent the views or positions of the U.S. Agency for International Development or the U.S. Government.