The direct physical damage caused by environmental
disasters is straightforward to document and often the focus of media and government attention, but addressing disasters' indirect effects remains difficult because they are challenging to observe. We exploit annual variation in the incidence of typhoons (West-Pacific hurricanes) to identify the effect of environmental disaster on economic and health outcomes in Filipino households. We find that the Philippines' typhoon climate causes large losses to households' economic well being, destroying durable assets and depressing incomes in the wake of storms. Household income losses translate directly into expenditure reductions, which are achieved in part through disinvestments in health and human capital. Examining infant mortality rates, we observe substantially increased female infant mortality in the years following storm exposure. Striking similarities in the structure of these mortality and economic responses, along multiple dimensions, implicates the deterioration of economic conditions and subsequent disinvestments as the cause of mortality among female infants. Bolstering this hypothesis, we find that mortality is highest in households where infant daughters face the greatest competition with other children for resources, particularly older brothers. We estimate that these delayed deaths among female infants outnumber officially reported typhoon deaths in the general populace by a factor of fifteen.
Understanding the feasibility and cost of adaptation is essential to management of the global climate. Unfortunately, we lack general estimates of adaptive responses to almost all climatological processes. To address this for one phenomenon, we estimate the extent of adaptation to tropical cyclones (TCs) using the global cross-section of countries. We reconstruct every TC observed during 1950- 2008 to parameterize countries’ TC climate and year-to-year TC exposure. We then look for evidence of adaptation by comparing deaths and damages from physically similar TC events across countries with different TC climatologies. We find that countries with more intense TC climates suffer lower marginal losses from an actual TC event, indicating that adaptation to this climatological risk occurs but it is costly. Overall, there is strong evidence that it is both feasible and cost-effective for countries with intense TC climatologies to invest heavily in adaptation. However, marginal changes from countries’ current TC climates generate persistent losses, of which only ~3% is “adapted away” in the long run.