New approach for Bangladesh: €1,9 million investment in cross-sectoral method to tackle stunting

Press release - 25th June 2018

New approach for Bangladesh: Dutch government invests €1.9 million in cross-sectoral method to tackle stunting in children

AMSTERDAM – The Dutch government’s investment of 1.9 million euros marks a new and cross-sectoral approach for development aid in Bangladesh. This investment is aimed at adding a nutritional component to the existing programme of Max Foundation for improving drinking water, sanitation and hygiene in Bangladesh. The inclusion of nutrition is needed to effectively prevent stunting in children under five. Research shows that such a combined approach can be three times more effective in reducing stunting. A lack of proper nutrition impedes brain development in young children, causing long-lasting mental and physical problems. These consequences are irreversible and lead to continuing (extreme) poverty that lasts for generations. The combined programme will run for two and a half years (until 2021) and will reach 1.3 million people. The Dutch Embassy in Dhaka and Max Foundation believe in the need for innovation and cross-sectoral development aid. They seek to achieve more efficiency and impact in improvements, both for and together with those who are disadvantaged.

No human being lives their life within the strictly defined working areas upheld by the development aid sector, such as water, food security or employment. Giving birth without running water, consuming insubstantial foods, possibly contaminated with bacteria from faeces; the challenges of poor people who live in poverty surpass the established working areas. This goes for the solutions too. The Sustainable Development Goals for health, food security and WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene education) cannot be achieved without an integrated approach spanning multiple sectors. As Riad Mahmud, Country Director van Max Foundation in Bangladesh states:

"The whole development sector, including the government, still thinks too much in terms of specific and limited sectors. The crux is to combine different approaches in one programme, so that we can reach our common goal as efficiently as possible."

The hidden cost of stunting in 160 million children worldwide relate to the high frequency of recurring diseases and a decreased ability to learn. This leads to fewer opportunities in the labour market and creates a cycle of poverty and ill health that lasts for generations. Sick and undernourished mothers give birth to underweight babies. Their children will subsequently suffer from insufficient nourishment and a disrupted immune system. An integrated approach of varied diet and WASH is the most effective way to prevent stunting in young children and breaking the poverty cycle. Besides that, every invested euro to reduce stunting in children delivers an economic return of 18 euros for the national economy.

Embassy programmes and Max Foundation

Dutch Ambassador Leoni Cuelenaere explains: "With this integrated approach we work effectively on the progress for both child health and maternal health, and for a strong economy in the rapidly emerging Bangladesh. It characterises our method of working and joins together our efforts to contribute to the SDG goals on the themes of Water and Food security. With confidence we look to a successful cooperation with Max Foundation and her partners to reach 1.3 million mothers and children by 2021".

In 2016, the Dutch government already increased their financial contribution by 4.9 million euros for the extension of the existing and long-running cooperation between the Dutch Embassy and Max Foundation. Since 2012, their joint actions are successfully reducing child mortality in the poorest, most vulnerable and hard-to-reach areas of South Bangladesh. The programme is unique in its execution in how it promotes sustainable change in hygiene behaviour. For example, by applying smart interventions such as monthly growth monitoring sessions of children in selected village and communities. Results of these sessions are compared to growth charts, much like those used in baby clinics in the Netherlands. This is an effective way to monitor behaviour change. 

List of some relevant facts
  • Worldwide, 160 million children are stunted. Globally this is 24% of all children under five.
  • In the project areas in the districts of Patuakhali, Khulna and Satkhira, areas subjected to the consequences of climate change and annual flooding, 40 percent of children under five are stunted.
  • Worldwide, 289,000 children die every year from diarrhoea and faeces related diseases caused by unsafe drinking water and sanitation facilities, and inadequate hygiene behaviour. This is one child every two minutes.
  • Countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and in South Asia that do not tackle stunting suffer an economic loss of 9-10% of GDP.
  • World Bank, "Health - Prevalence of stunting height for age (% of children under 5)."
  • Newman, J (2013). How Stunting is related to Adequate Food, Environmental Health and Care: Evidence from India, Bangladesh, and Peru, World Bank
  • Hoddinott et. al. (2013). The economic rationale for investing in stunting reduction. Maternal and Child Nutrition, 9, pp. 69-82.
  • Data Patuakhali,
  • WASHWatch (2017). 289,000 children die every year from diarrhoeal diseases caused by poor WASH. Available at (visited on 1st June 2018).
  • World Bank (2017). Reducing Inequalities in Water Supply, Sanitation, and Hygiene in the Era of the Sustainable Development Goals: Synthesis Report of the Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Poverty Diagnostic Initiative. Available at (visited 1st June 2018)

 Download the press release here.

Back to news overview