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Monsoon rains getting deadly, Children are the greatest victims

Monsoon rains, although advantageous for rice farming, are becoming more hazardous due to climate change, putting thousands

By Ground report
New Update
Children are the greatest victims of deadly monsoons: Study

Monsoon rains, although advantageous for rice farming, are becoming more hazardous due to climate change, putting thousands of lives at risk globally. Recent research suggests that children are the main casualties of these progressively deadly monsoons.

The study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that global warming is exacerbating the rainy seasons in South Asia, leading to irregular and unprecedented intensities.

The region has experienced unusual flooding since the start of the year due to these deadly monsoons. Research suggests that this phenomenon will recur and worsen with rising global temperatures. "Typically, we assess the impact of natural disasters based on the level of destruction, death toll, and reconstruction costs."

Infants are the weakest link in the face of deadly monsoons. Photo Credit/Wikimedia Commons

However, a new study from the University of California broadens this perspective by examining the impact on children. The findings are alarming. Monsoons in Bangladesh are claiming a distressing number of lives, not only during the floods but also in the subsequent months.

Despite the concerted efforts of local authorities, aid organizations, and the international scientific community, the full extent of this tragedy remains unappreciated.

Motivated to move beyond cataloging the acute public health impacts of natural hazards linked to climate change, Benmarhnia and his co-authors undertook the study. Benmarhnia said, "We wanted to document what happens when some communities are exposed to these climate hazards year after year."

153,753 infants

Recent research by scientists from the Universities of California at San Diego and San Francisco has revealed a tragic consequence of climate change: the increased mortality of infants due to flooding. The study, which focused on Bangladesh and spanned from 1988 to 2017, found that flooding was a significant factor in the deaths of 152,753 infants under 11 months old.

The researchers used health surveys conducted by the United States Agency for International Development, which covered over 150,000 births over three decades. When this data was compared with high-resolution maps of major floods during the same period, a stark difference in mortality risk emerged. Flood-prone areas saw an additional 5.3 infant deaths per 1,000 births compared to areas not prone to flooding.

This data led the authors to calculate the total number of child deaths attributable to floods in Bangladesh during the study period. Infants, being particularly vulnerable, serve as an indicator of the broader health impacts on the general population. Death, the most severe health outcome, is only the tip of the iceberg.

Infants are particularly vulnerable to these changes, especially when it comes to malnutrition. Photo Credit: Unsplash.

For instance, in 2021, monsoon rains in Pakistan resulted in nearly 1,700 deaths, including 630 children and 340 women.

Similarly, the 2023 monsoon season in India, which runs from June to September, has caused significant devastation: it has already claimed the lives of 428 people and has likely led to an estimated $1.42 billion in property damage in Himachal Pradesh alone.

Most of these deaths probably come from flood-related conditions like diarrheal diseases, cholera, and outbreaks of mosquito-borne diseases like dengue.

Beyond Monsoon

Often, we give immediate attention to the devastation caused by monsoons, but we must also consider the broader, long-term effects. Climate events aren't isolated incidents; they affect vulnerable populations repeatedly over years, decades, and generations. Floods, for instance, can turn agricultural fields into swamps, leading to significant crop losses and worsening food insecurity in places like Bangladesh.

Infants are particularly vulnerable to these changes, especially when it comes to malnutrition. The Lancet, a renowned medical journal, publishes an annual analysis of the impacts of climate change on global health. It identifies bacterial and vector-borne diseases, along with malnutrition, as the primary concerns. Interestingly, injuries and drownings directly caused by flooding account for only a small percentage of deaths.

Benmarhnia and his co-authors sought a method to examine the long-term public health burden of child mortality in flood-prone areas, and Bangladesh seemed to present an opportunity to measure that burden over an extended period.

Benmarhnia said, "We use child mortality as a proxy for easily avoidable negative health outcomes. If we cannot avoid child mortality, it is likely that we also have issues with malnutrition, mental health, and communicable diseases. From a public health perspective, infant mortality represents only the tip of the iceberg."

The health risks associated with floods, ranging from the first instance of drowning to the last case of dengue, are amplified by socioeconomic factors. These include food security, family income, vaccination history, access to healthcare, and the state of local infrastructure such as sewage systems and water treatment facilities.

The authors of the study suggest that health risks from environmental hazards are evolving as climate change intensifies. This highlights the need for a comprehensive, long-term approach to understanding and mitigating the impacts of climate change.

More and more intense

Monsoons, weather phenomena that significantly affect various regions worldwide, particularly Southeast Asia, can lead to humanitarian crises, economic damage, agricultural disruption, and flooding in low-lying areas. In some instances, monsoon seasons have extended, resulting in a high number of casualties and widespread damage.

Climate change is exacerbating rainfall in the region, prompting scientists to warn that states in the Himalayas need to brace for more intense and unpredictable seasons. Global warming is fueling extreme weather events, and we anticipate it will intensify both droughts and heavy rains as the planet warms. Bernardo Gozzini, director of the Lamma-Cnr Consortium, notes Copernicus data clearly shows the phenomenon is worsening.

"Researchers have used the approach to assess the impact of deadly monsoon flooding on communities in Bangladesh over several years, and could potentially use this approach to analyze the long-term effects of other climate exposures."

Climate change can exacerbate environmental disasters such as extreme heat, hurricanes, and drought, and these can cause harmful health effects that manifest weeks, months, or even years after the event. If future research can determine how and when these effects occur, it could help save lives. This approach is particularly relevant for other regions worldwide that are vulnerable to increasingly recurring climate risks.

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