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