Children’s vulnerability to natural disasters: Evidence from natural experiments in Bangladesh

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Department of Applied Economics and Statistics, University of Delaware, Newark, DE.
Both developed and developing countries face natural disasters, but it is the poor areas in developing countries, particularly women and children, that are most affected by those disasters in terms of loss of lives and livelihoods. If the predictions climate change models bear out, Bangladesh could be affected by frequent and severe natural disasters such as the rise in sea level leading to floods, cyclones, etc. Natural disasters adversely affect employment opportunities and earnings of the most vulnerable households. Loss of employment and earnings can affect the nutritional intake of children in natural disaster affected regions. Since nutritional status in the early age of 0-60 months of a child determines the cognitive ability and other developments, hindrances that affect nutritional supply and result in low nutritional intake can have adverse lifetime effects on children affected by such events. Consequently, the frequency and severity of natural disasters due to climate change have intergenerational effects. In this study, we examine the effects of natural disasters – specifically, cyclones Sidr and Aila - on children’s nutritional status in Bangladesh. We estimate the nutritional status of children below 60-months age who had been exposed to those extreme events in November 2007 and May 2009. Results show that children who had been exposed to such an extreme climate events from sometime in utero to newborn stages suffer significant reduction in height for age Z score and are more likely to be stunted and underweight. This is particularly important as among other nutritional outcome indicators, height for age Z score is regarded as a measure of the long-term consequence of nutritional intake. Our findings suggest that even a single extreme event such as super cyclone Sidr can exert long term detrimental effects to hinder development of children of a generation exposed to such disasters.
Natural experiments, Bangladesh, Children's Vulnerability, Natural disasters