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Sam Heft-Neal

Renzhi Jing, Sam Heft-Neal, Zetianyu Wang, Jie Chen, Minghao Qiu, Isaac M. Opper, Zachary Wagner, Eran Bendavid.

Increasing educational attainment is one of the most important and effective tools for health and economic improvements. The extent to which extreme climate events disrupt education, resulting in fewer years of schooling and reduced educational attainment, remains under-studied. Children in low- and middle-income countries may be uniquely vulnerable to loss of schooling after such disasters due to the poor physical condition of schools and the lack of resources to rebuild and mitigate unexpected household shocks. Our analysis assesses this overlooked social cost of tropical cyclones on schooling attainment.

We study the education records of nearly 5.1 million people living in 13 low- and middle-income countries that were exposed to tropical cyclones between 1954-2010. We find that exposure to tropical cyclones during preschool age is associated with a 2.7 percentage point decrease in primary school enrollment on average (14.2% decrease), with larger effects from more intense storms (up to 28% decrease for the most intense storms). These effects are more pronounced among school-age girls compared to boys and are greater in areas less accustomed to experiencing tropical cyclones. We estimate that, across all LMICs, tropical cyclone exposure has resulted in more than 410,000 children not attending primary school in the last 20 years, leading to a reduction of more than 4.1 million total years of schooling. These impacts, identified among some of the world’s poorest populations, may grow in importance as exposure to severe tropical cyclones is projected to increase with climate change.

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