The Role of Water Availability in Mitigating Heat-Related Mortality: Empirical Evidence From South Africa

Kelly Hyde , University of Pittsburgh

As the world works toward universal access to safe drinking water, rising global surface temperatures threaten to reduce precipitation and evaporate surface freshwater in areas already experiencing water stress. In this paper, I provide empirical evidence of a significant interaction between water availability and the heat-mortality relationship. I find that higher water availability, as measured by volumetric flow rates of key rivers in South Africa, reduces the slope of the temperature-mortality relationship above the excess heat threshold. This suggests that the decrease in precipitation predicted as a consequence of climate change will amplify the direct effect on mortality of rising temperatures, with heterogeneous effects based on the level of water infrastructure, the incidence rate of waterborne illness, and race. I provide estimates of the economic cost of this interaction as a lower bound of the optimal preemptive investment in water infrastructure and technologies to increase the supply of potable water.

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 Presented in Session 3. Population, Development, & the Environment; Data & Methods; Applied Demography