Peruvian children stunted growth blamed on El Niño storms

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Researchers have placed blame on the weather phenomenon known as El Niño, which is responsible for outbreaks of disease and natural disasters, for the stunted growth of children living in Peru.

Researchers from Johns Hopkins University in America discovered that children born during or shortly after a severe El Niño event which occurred 17 years ago were much shorter for their age than those born after the abatement of the storms. El Niño occurs in the equatorial Pacific region every three to seven years. Warming of the ocean surface accumulates, heating the air above it, and the result is extreme flooding and torrential rains within the Americas.

The floods in Peru caused by this weather phenomenon during 1997/98 resulted in the destruction of roads and crops, as well as illnesses, such as diarrhoea and malaria.

The research involved in excess of 2000 children born between 1991 and 2001 in the Tumbes region in the north of Peru. The measurement of their weight and height indicated that prior to El Niño the children had been gaining height steadily due to the growth of the economy and an increase in food production. However, this has been reversed since the 1997 El Niño. Findings indicate that children under the age of three were most affected and by the age of 10, they were 1.5 inches shorter than normal.

A decline in physical and mental capacity in later life has been linked to stunting, as well as pregnancies carrying higher risks.

The study also discovered that children born shortly after the floods experienced a reduction in muscle mass and this may affect their ability to work, which would negatively affect the sustainability of fishing and agricultural activities within the region. It will also have an impact on the traditional communities.

Heavy storms cause water pollution and it damages crops, which results in an increase in the spread of infectious disease and food scarcity. An added problem is that damaged roads hinder access to healthcare.

The researchers stated that the results of this study are preliminary and no conclusion can be drawn that El Niño holds sole responsibility for this problem. However, they noted that members of the community were unable to cite other events during the same time as El Niño which had such a destructive effect on their lives.

Image Credit: paris_tx

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