Better sanitation may help fight malnutrition

About the only place in the world with a major crop problem this summer is India.


The prospect for bumper crops in the United States has put severe downward pressure on crop prices. Europe also expects better than average crops, and production in the Black Sea region is meeting expectations. In Canada, the eastern Prairies were hit hard by excess moisture, but that is a small slice of the global food production pie.


The annual monsoon finally covered all of India last week, and the national average rainfall total for the week improved. However, it re-mained below the norm.


It was the sixth consecutive week of well below normal rainfall.


The deficit since the start of the monsoon June 1 to July 16 was 31 percent.


The situation has raised expectations that agricultural production, including pulse crops, could potentially fall this year, raising opportunities for increased Canadian pulse exports.


However, the rainfall deficit does not necessarily mean India will have much smaller production. Major crops such as wheat are seeded in fall and are irrigated. Most of India’s pulse crop is also seeded in the fall.


The government holds large wheat stores from previous big crops and it has restricted exports to prevent the sale of grain that might be needed at home.


Still, the seeding of summer crops is well behind normal as farmers hold back until the rain arrives.


Food production is a major preoccupation of Indian governments seeking to avoid the unrest that builds when people go hungry.


India struggles with malnutrition, even though it has enjoyed large crops in recent years. 


The New York Times ran a story by reporter Gardiner Harris on July 13 that shed a new light on India’s malnutrition and where the government might want to adjust its spending priorities.


Surprisingly, a child in India is much more likely to be malnourished than children in other countries that have much weaker economies, such as Zimbabwe or Somalia.


The article points the finger at the dismal state of sanitation and sewage treatment in India.


Half of Indians defecate outdoors, meaning people are constantly surrounded by human waste. 


Only three percent of people in neighbouring Bangladesh, a poorer country, defecate outdoors.


Health researchers say the reason so many of India’s children are malnourished, stunted and suffering mental and physical defects is be-cause they must divert energy and nutrients from growth to fight infections.


It is estimated that half of India’s population gets its water from contaminated supplies, leading to diseased children who struggle to maintain weight even when they have enough to eat.


The problem might be most acute in India, but the World Health Organization says 2.6 billion people, which is half the developing world, lack even a simple “improved” latrine, and 1.1 billion people don’t have access to clean drinking water.


Recent strong crop prices have boosted investment in agricultural productivity.


Perhaps it is time to now focus attention on clean water and sanitation so that children don’t suffer from malnutrition even when they are surrounded by food.