Living near newly built roads in Ethiopia is associated with higher rates of infant mortality, according to research by Caterina Gennaioli and Gaia Narciso, to be presented at the Royal Economic Society”s annual conference at the University of Sussex in Brighton in March 2018.
The study finds that an additional road built within five kilometres increases the probability that a mother experiences an infant death by three percentage points. This implies that the average mother sees the probability of experiencing an infant death to increase from 8.5% to 11%, when a new road segment is built nearby.
What”s more, children under the age of five living near a recently built road have a lower level of haemoglobin in the blood and are more likely to suffer from severe anaemia. These findings seem to be explained by the presence of toxic waste dumped illegally during the road construction phase.
The results suggest that infrastructure development, particularly road constructions, should be accompanied by actions aimed at preventing illegal toxic waste disposal, especially in regions with weak institutions and a strategic geographical position.
Illegal disposal of waste, and in particular hazardous waste, has devastating health and economic consequences on the local population. Locating and assessing the distribution of toxic waste is therefore a pressing matter, especially in developing countries, as the incidence of many of the negative health outcomes declines after clean-ups of hazardous waste sites.
Nevertheless, the available information on illegal dumping of waste dumping is fragmented through various sources and the lack of reliable data represents a significant obstacle to the study of the phenomenon.
This study introduces an innovative strategy to identify where waste might have been dumped. The author focuses on specific health outcomes that the medical literature associates with toxic waste exposure, and identifies where waste may have been buried.
The investigation is based on the premise that road construction sites provide an ideal opportunity for the illegal disposal of toxic waste. Indeed, the embankments and the sites set up during the digging phase provide a suitable place for dumping, and newly built roads make previously remote areas more accessible and susceptible to dumping. The use of road construction sites for illegal waste disposal is supported by evidence from both developed and developing countries.
The new study focuses on Ethiopia, a country that has experienced a period of extensive road building between 1997 and 2010. In addition East Africa is recognised by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime as a region under severe threat from toxic waste trafficking and dumping.
To run the analysis, the study assembles a very detailed dataset. In particular it uses data from two rounds of the Demographic and Health Survey conducted in 2005 and 2011, which contain several indicators of the health status of adults and children, including infant mortality, anaemia, and the level of haemoglobin in the blood. Geo-referenced data on the Ethiopian roads network for the years 2000, 2005 and 2010 is added.
The analysis focuses on roads constructed along the corridors connecting the capital Addis Ababa to the neighbouring countries – Djibouti, Somalia, Eritrea, Sudan and Kenya – and shows that the results only hold along two main routes connecting Ethiopia to Somalia and Djibouti.
These findings are consistent with the anecdotal evidence on the likely routes followed by toxic waste.
Infrastructure development projects in Africa have been scaled up and are attracting substantial investments from foreign investors. The evidence presented in this study suggests that infrastructure development, particularly road constructions, should be accompanied by actions aimed at preventing illegal toxic waste disposal, especially in regions with weak institutions and a strategic geographical position.