Background: The increase in the frequency of extreme events due to climate change poses a serious challenge to achieving the Sustainable Development Goal 2 of ending hunger by 2030. While evidence exists on the impact of drought on under-five children, its effect during late childhood and early adolescence remains less investigated.
Objective: This study estimates the impact of concurrent and long-term exposure to drought on linear growth during late childhood and early adolescence.
Methods: Four rounds (2002-2013) of data from the young lives Cohort Study dataset (n = 2000) was used. The associations of concurrent and long-term exposure to drought and Height-for-age z-score was analysed using structural equation modelling techniques. The study also explored the mediating role of interim period growth in the association of early exposure to drought and undernutrition at later age and the role of the Productive Safety Net Program in buffering the impact of drought on child nutrition.
Results: Results show that both concurrent and long-term exposure to drought was negatively associated with Height-for-age z-score (p < 0.001). Exposure to drought at age 5, 8, and 12 years is associated with lower Height-for-age z- score at age 5, 8, and 12 years respectively. Exposure to drought at age 5 years was also negatively associated with Height-for-age z-score at age 12 years (p < 0.001). This association was mainly indirect (89%) and mediated through reduced child growth in subsequent years. Participation in productive safety net program by drought-affected children reduces but does not completely offset the negative effects of drought on Height-for-age z-score (p < 0.1). Moreover, girls were more likely to suffer poor growth than boys.
Conclusion: Drought exposure after the 1,000 days window could have a lasting impact on child growth. Given the importance of this period for child physical and mental development, children beyond the 1,000 days window should also be a focus of disaster relief programs.