Flood Prone Areas Are Likely To Have More Infant Mortality

Data spanning three decades highlights the potential long-term public health burden of recurrent flooding in Bangladesh.

Asian Scientist Magazine (Dec. 14, 2023) — Communities worldwide, especially those that are vulnerable, have already been grappling with repercussions of climate-induced weather extremes. A team of scientists has recently measured the burden of living in flood-prone areas of Bangladesh on infant mortality over a 30-year time period. The findings published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reveal the reality of the long-term consequences of climate change.

In Bangladesh, the annual monsoons now bring stronger downpours. That combined with melting Himalayan glaciers swell the rivers around the low-lying areas of the country—causing devastating floods every year. Researchers at UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography and UC San Francisco, wanted to find a way to document what happens when these communities are exposed to these climate hazards year after year.

“Child mortality is a proxy for easily avoidable negative health outcomes,” said study co-author, Tarik Benmarhnia, associate professor at Scripps Oceanography who studies climate change and health. “If we can’t avoid child mortality there are also likely to be issues with malnutrition, mental health, and communicable diseases – from a public health perspective, infant mortality is only the tip of the iceberg.”

Using high-resolution maps of recent large floods, the team first pinpointed flood-prone areas in the country. They then integrated this information with health data from 58,945 Bangladeshi mothers and 150,081 births, collected by the U.S. AID’s Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) program between 1988 and 2017.

To best isolate the potential impact of the flood-risk on infants, the study carefully matched mothers who were identical across other measurable variables that could also influence infant mortality, such as income and education.

Their analysis revealed that residing in flood-prone regions was linked to an increased risk of 5.3 additional infant deaths per 1,000 births over the 30-year period, compared to those living in flood-safe zones. In fact, the data indicated that infants who were born in areas susceptible to floods, had an 8% higher chance of succumbing by their first birthday.

Utilizing population data, weighted statistical analysis, and the flood-zone mapping tools, the team extrapolated the results from this sample group to calculate a national-scale estimate, revealing an excess of 152,753 infant deaths associated with living in flood-prone areas of Bangladesh from 1988 to 2017.

Benmarhnia noted that while the study did not factor in the role of climate change in the analysis, they did observe a consistent rise in the overall risk of child mortality over the three decades.

“We didn’t quantify the role of climate change, but it’s the elephant in the room,” said Benmarhnia. “While our data can’t explicitly link our findings to climate change, they’re compatible with the notion that climate change is making flooding and the public health impacts that flow from it are worsening.”

Nevertheless, the study’s findings implore more investigations into the long-term health impacts of climate hazards, especially countries most vulnerable to climate devastations like Bangladesh. It also serves as a guide to assess the consequences of other climate-related exposures over extended time scales.

The authors are currently exploring the potential of implementing seasonally-timed nutritional interventions to improve food security during periods when communities are most vulnerable to flooding and other climate hazards.

“We need to be thinking about and dealing with the long-term consequences of other climate hazards and instances of so-called extreme weather,” said Benmarhnia. “We may also need to redefine our concept of extreme. The intensity is extreme but these environmental hazards like flooding are less and less rare. We may need to reframe these issues as recurring problems, and not just emergency situations.”

Source: UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography ; Image: Shutterstock

The article can be found at Excess risk in infant mortality among populations living in flood-prone areas in Bangladesh: A cluster-matched cohort study over three decades, 1988 to 2017.

Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.


Nishat is a science journalist. She graduated with an MSc in Biomedical Science from Monash University where she worked with a cellular model of Parkinson’s Disease. Nishat loves lending her voice to bring science closer to society.

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