The Effect of Dust Storms on Child Health in West Africa

Timothy Foreman


Dust storms are a fact of life for populations residing in semi-arid environments. These storms can result in a variety of immediate and long-term impacts. Reports have included evidence of people suffocating due to airborne dust, transport networks being disrupted and leading to traffic accidents, as well as increases in asthma attacks. Despite these records, we do not know their total effect on health. In this paper, I study the effects of dust storms on child mortality using reanalysis data on Aerosol Optical Depth (AOD) and household health data from the Demographic and Health Surveys. I use dust observed over the Sahara to instrument for the dust over where the child is born. I find that a one standard-deviation increase in AOD at month of birth leads to a 0.4 percentage point decrease in the probability that a child survives to age 5. This estimate implies that about 7% of all child mortality observed in the sample is affected by dust storms.

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