Options Winter 2020: Research shows that policy interventions targeting particularly vulnerable populations are needed to curb the effects of changing weather patterns on the health of at risk children in India and elsewhere.

Both the frequency and magnitude of floods are expected to increase in coming decades. It is therefore important to understand the full impact floods can have on the global population.

Beyond physical and economic damage, floods have adverse impacts on human health. For example, floods lead to a greater incidence of infectious diseases and reduced agricultural production, both of which can be especially dangerous to children. Studies show that floods directly lead to undernutrition and stunted growth.

A study by Deputy World Population Program Director Raya Muttarak and colleagues found that flood-induced undernutrition is particularly serious for children in India. Generally, boys are more at risk for stunting than girls. The study however shows that the probability for stunting is equal for boys and girls—likely due to the fact that parents in India choose to feed boys more than girls during hard times. The study also found that a mother’s education is key to protecting against childhood undernutrition due to improved health knowledge, increased female empowerment, and higher health care use.

“We found that not only do extreme weather events such as floods lead to childhood undernutrition, but that the risk of becoming stunted is not distributed evenly across population subgroups,” explains Muttarak. “The finding that infants and girls from rural households with low levels of maternal education are susceptible to undernutrition suggest the need for policy interventions targeting particularly vulnerable populations.”

By Michael Fitzpatrick