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Do Natural Disasters Affect Human Capital? An Assessment Based on Existing Empirical Evidence


  • Baez, Javier E.

    () (World Bank)

  • de la Fuente, Alejandro

    () (World Bank)

  • Santos, Indhira

    () (World Bank)


The last few years have seen a notable increase in the number of studies investigating the causes and effects of natural disasters in many dimensions. This paper seeks to review and assess available empirical evidence on the ex-post microeconomic effects of natural disasters on the accumulation of human capital, focusing on consumption, nutrition, education and health, including mental health. Three major findings come forward from this work. First, disasters appear to bring substantial damages to human capital, including death and destruction, and produce deleterious consequences on nutrition, education, health and many income-generating processes. Furthermore, some of these detrimental effects are both large and long-lasting. Second, there is a large degree of heterogeneity in the size – but not much in the direction – of the impacts on different socioeconomic groups. Yet, an empirical regularity across natural hazards is that the poorest carry the heaviest burden of the effects of disasters across different determinants and outcomes of human capital. Finally, although the occurrence of natural hazards is mostly out of control of authorities, there still is a significant room for policy action to minimize their impacts on the accumulation of human capital. We highlight the importance of flexible safety nets as well as the double critical role of accurate and reliable information to monitor risks and vulnerabilities, and identify the impacts and responses of households once they are hit by a disaster. The paper also lays out existing knowledge gaps, particularly in regard to the need of improving our understanding of the impacts of disasters on health outcomes, the mechanisms of transmission and the persistence of the effects in the long-run.

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  • Baez, Javier E. & de la Fuente, Alejandro & Santos, Indhira, 2010. "Do Natural Disasters Affect Human Capital? An Assessment Based on Existing Empirical Evidence," IZA Discussion Papers 5164, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  • Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp5164

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    1. de Janvry, Alain & Finan, Frederico & Sadoulet, Elisabeth & Vakis, Renos, 2006. "Can conditional cash transfer programs serve as safety nets in keeping children at school and from working when exposed to shocks?," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 79(2), pages 349-373, April.
    2. Sharon Maccini & Dean Yang, 2009. "Under the Weather: Health, Schooling, and Economic Consequences of Early-Life Rainfall," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 99(3), pages 1006-1026, June.
    3. L. Cropper, Maureen & Sahin, Sebnem, 2009. "Valuing mortality and morbidity in the context of disaster risks," Policy Research Working Paper Series 4832, The World Bank.
    4. del Ninno, Carlo & Lundberg, Mattias, 2005. "Treading water: The long-term impact of the 1998 flood on nutrition in Bangladesh," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 3(1), pages 67-96, March.
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    6. de Mel, Suresh & McKenzie, David & Woodruff, Christopher, 2008. "Mental health recovery and economic recovery after the tsunami: High-frequency longitudinal evidence from Sri Lankan small business owners," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 66(3), pages 582-595, February.
    7. Baez Javier Eduardo, 2006. "Income Volatility, Risk-Coping Behavior and Consumption Smoothing Mechanisms in Developing Countries: A Survey," REVISTA DESARROLLO Y SOCIEDAD, UNIVERSIDAD DE LOS ANDES-CEDE, August.
    8. Valerie A. Mueller & Daniel E. Osgood, 2009. "Long-term consequences of short-term precipitation shocks: evidence from Brazilian migrant households," Agricultural Economics, International Association of Agricultural Economists, vol. 40(5), pages 573-586, September.
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    More about this item


    natural disasters; human capital accumulation;

    JEL classification:

    • I00 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - General - - - General
    • O10 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - General
    • O15 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Economic Development: Human Resources; Human Development; Income Distribution; Migration

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