The Nitrogen Legacy: Long-Term Effects of Water Pollution on Human Capital

Esha Zaveri
Jason Russ, World Bank Group
Sebastien Desbureaux, World Bank Group
Richard Damania, World Bank Group

The Green Revolution, starting in the mid-1960s, led to a rapid increase in agricultural productivity while at the same time exacted a toll on India’s waters — runoff of excess nitrogen from fields increased concentrations of nitrate and nitrite in the rivers to harmful levels. This paper studies the impact of early-life exposure to nitrate-nitrite pollution on adult health and labor productivity in India using unique data on geolocated water quality combined with birth histories of adults from the Demographic and Health Surveys. We find that women exposed to nitrate-nitrite pollution in their earliest years of life are shorter on average and also 2% more likely to experience a stillbirth in adulthood than women of similar circumstances who were not exposed to such pollution. Early-life exposure to nitrate-nitrite pollution also lowers later-life labor productivity and depresses adult wages.

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 Presented in Session 36. Early-Life Environmental and Economic Exposures: Impact on Demographic and Health Outcomes in India and Sub-Saharan Africa