Researchers have shown that living near newly built roads in Ethiopia is associated with higher rates of infant mortality. Proximity to new roads has negative health effects because of toxic waste dumped illegally during the construction phase, according to early research by economists at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) and Trinity College Dublin (TCD).

The research shows that an additional road built within five kilometres increases the probability that a mother experiences an infant death by three percentage points from 8.5 per cent to 11 per cent The research team also found that children under the age of five living near a recently built road have a lower level of haemoglobin in the blood and are more likely to suffer from severe anemia.

The research builds on an established body of evidence linking toxic pollution to the incidence of death and disease in less developing countries. Among the poorest countries, it accounts for more than three times the number of death and diseases caused by malaria, HIV, tuberculosis combined. The illegal flow of toxic waste is recognised to be one of the most significant forms of transnational crime, with potentially devastating health consequences for local populations.

The study is published as a Trinity Economics Paper by Dr Caterina Gennaioli from QMUL’s School of Business and Management and Dr Gaia Narciso from TCD’s Department of Economics.

The researchers based their investigation on the premise that road construction sites provide an ideal opportunity for the illegal disposal of toxic waste. They argue that the embankments and the sites set up during the digging phase provide a suitable place for dumping, and that newly built roads make previously remote areas more accessible and susceptible to dumping. They chose to focus on Ethiopia because of the country’s extensive road building programme which took place from 1997 to 2010. In addition East Africa is recognised by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime as a region under severe threat from toxic waste trafficking and dumping (UNODC 2009).

Read more at Queen Mary University of London