By Patrick Galey
Changing rain patterns caused by the El Nino warming phenomenon frequently drives millions of children into malnutrition and saddles them with life-long health issues, researchers said Tuesday, calling for action against the “predictable” impact.
El Nino is a periodic event that affects global weather patterns, occurring every few years when eastern Pacific Ocean waters get unusually warm, leading to heavy rain in some regions but relative drought in others.
US-based researchers examined 40 years worth of data for more than one million children across all developing country regions and compared their weight in El Nino with non-El Nino years.
They found that warmer and drier El Nino conditions increased childhood malnutrition across the tropics — a part of the world where 20 percent of children are already severely underweight.
Crucially, while the children’s weight appeared to rebound following an El Nino, the shock to their nutrition caused by the phenomenon led to stunted growth for years.
Writing in the journal Nature Communications, the team found that a typical El Nino event saw childhood malnutrition rates soar as much as three times higher than that witnessed during the coronavirus pandemic.
“It would have been very difficult to prepare the world for a pandemic that few saw coming,” said co-author Amir Jina, from the Harris School of Public Policy.
“But we can’t say the same about El Nino events that have a potentially much greater impact on the long-term growth and health of children.”