Into the tropics: Temperature, mortality, and access to health care in Colombia

Peer Reviewed
1 May 2023

Juliana Helo Sarmiento


This paper analyzes the relationship between temperature, mortality, and adaptation opportunities in a tropical country. Such countries host almost 40% of the world’s population and face inherently different environmental, demographic, and socio-economic conditions than their counterparts in temperate areas. Using detailed data from all Colombian municipalities, I show that anomalously hot or cold days increase mortality even at narrow temperature ranges, which are characteristic of the tropics. An additional day with a mean temperature above 27 °C (80.6 ∘F) increases mortality rates by approximately 0.24 deaths per 100,000, equivalent to 0.7% of monthly death rates. Unlike temperate locations, I find that deaths attributed to infectious diseases and respiratory illnesses drive this relationship in the hot part of the distribution, mainly affecting children aged 0–9. These findings uncover new factors and populations at risk and imply that the average person who dies after a hot temperature shock loses approximately 30 years of life. I also provide evidence that access to health care and quality of services could mediate between temperature and mortality.

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Publication reference
Helo Sarmiento, J. (2023). Into the tropics: Temperature, mortality, and access to health care in Colombia. Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, 119, 102796.
Publication | 15 December 2023