Steve Berggreen-Clausen, Lund University

"Unsafe water and children's development"


We identify a novel source of geographic variation detrimental to child development: stagnant water exposure. Stagnant water promotes the spread of water- and vectorborne diseases, such as cholera, typhoid fever, and malaria, which account for 25% of the total disease burden in low-income countries. We use recent advances in hydrological engineering to predict stagnant water shocks across Tanzania. Using a difference-in-differences approach, we find that most effects on child health are driven by waterborne diseases: a 10% stagnant water shock increases diarrhea incidence by 30%. Access to improved sanitation and water sources mitigates this effect, while it increases with high temperatures and population density, consistent with known risk factors of waterborne diseases. Moreover, a 10% stagnant water shock reduces test scores by 7% of a standard deviation. These effects persist over months, and preliminary results suggest that the effects may last several years. We find that climate change will have a dramatic impact on this environmental hazard: 2°C of warming may lead to a threefold increase in the combined severity and frequency of stagnant water shocks. Fortunately, these shocks can be prevented by improved drainage, water management, and urban planning, while disease exposure can be mitigated by short-range forecasts and targeted WASH, treatment, and information campaigns.