Researchers from UMD Geography have mapped the vulnerability of child nutrition to drought. They combined a global data set of child nutrition outcomes from 53 countries with data on local climate conditions to show that during precipitation anomalies, children have worse nutrition outcomes than they do during normal years. As a metric of child malnutrition, they used Height-for-Age Z Scores, which compares a child's height to the height of a healthy child of the same age and gender. Many children from developing countries are shorter than their better-nourished peers.
By focusing on a variety of geographic factors that influence vulnerability to drought, the researchers were able to map where child nutrition outcomes would be expected to worsen during current droughts. They found that factors associated with more resilient nutrition outcomes during droughts were nutritionally-diverse cropping systems, effective governance, overall crop production, and international trade, while factors associated with more drought vulnerability was higher population density, more bare land cover, and higher annual temperatures.
The researchers compared their model's predictions with actual reports of worsened food security during recent droughts in eastern and southern Africa, and found remarkable concordance between their model's predictions and the on-the-ground observations of food insecurity.
The research was recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and was part of the dissertation work of Matthew Cooper, the lead author of the study. UMD professors Molly Brown and Julie Silva were co-authors, as were collaborators from the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) and Conservation International.