Jesse K. Anttila-Hughes, Amir S. Jina, and Gordon C. McCord
- The El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) leads to changes in temperature and precipitation throughout the tropics, having widespread impacts on agriculture, economic production and social stability. To guide global public investments in food insecure areas, the study provides the first estimate of El Niño’s impacts on child nutrition throughout the global tropics.
- Using data tracking more than a million children spanning four decades and all developing country regions, the authors examine the children’s weight in El Niño years compared to years where there was no El Niño as well as directly before and after the El Niño began. These data represent nearly 50 percent of children under five globally.
- The authors find that warmer, drier El Niño conditions increase undernutrition in children across most of the tropics. In the small segment of areas where El Niño leads to increased precipitation, the opposite occurs. While the children’s weight appears to recuperate, the shock on their nutrition at such a young age stunted their growth in later years.
- In the case of the severe 2015 El Niño, nearly 6 million children were driven into undernutrition as a result. To put this into context, each 1-in-4 year El Niño event has an impact on children’s nutrition that is at least 70 percent the size of the 1-in-100-year Covid-19 pandemic, and perhaps up to three times greater impact than Covid-19.
- The number of children driven into undernutrition during the 2015 El Niño is equivalent to erasing one year of progress towards the international community’s goal of eliminating undernutrition, with only 10 years remaining to meet that goal. To offset the impacts of the 2015 El Niño would require providing 134 million children with micronutrient supplements or 72 million with additional food in the food insecure region.
- Despite increasing incomes and trade connectivity, El Niño has eroded and continues to hold back the developing world’s progress in reducing hunger. But given the highly predictable nature of the events, institutions engaged in multi-year humanitarian efforts could easily incorporate El Niño into their planning to approach global hunger in a more proactive fashion.
Areas of Focus: Environment
, Environmental Health
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, Climate Change
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, Climate Science
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