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Long Run Health Repercussions of Drought Shocks: Evidence from South African Homelands

Taryn Dinkelman

NBER Working Paper No. 21440
Issued in July 2015
NBER Program(s):Children, Development Economics, Labor Studies

Drought is Africa’s most prevalent natural disaster and is becoming an increasingly common source of income shocks around the world. This paper presents new evidence from Africa that droughts are an important component of long run variation in health human capital. I use Census data to estimate the effects of early childhood exposure to drought on later-life disabilities among South Africans confined to homelands during apartheid. By exploiting almost forty years of quasi-random variation in local droughts experienced by different cohorts in different districts, I find that drought exposure in infancy raises later-life disability rates by 3.5 to 5.2%, with effects concentrated in physical and mental disabilities, and largest for males. An exploration of spatial heterogeneity in drought effects suggests that limits to mobility imposed on homelands may have contributed to these negative effects. My findings are relevant for low-income settings where households have limited access to formal and informal coping mechanisms and face high costs of avoiding droughts through migration.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w21440

Published: Taryn Dinkelman, 2016. "Long run health repercussions of drought shocks: Evidence from South African homelands," The Economic Journal, , pages n/a-n/a. citation courtesy of

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