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Research: Typhoons' Devastation Puts Baby Girls at Risk

Typhoon Haiyan

New research out of the University of San Francisco, shows the economic effects of typhoons are long lasting and disproportionately hurt girls. Photo by Reuters/John Javellana.

Six months after Typhoon Haiyan leveled dozens of towns, killing more than 6,000 people and affecting an estimated four million, Filipinos have begun to rebuild. But in the super storm’s wake, one USF researcher worries that thousands of baby girls remain at risk.

15 times as many die

More than 15 times as many infant girls die in the 12-24 months after a typhoon as people die at the time of a storm’s impact, according to research by USF’s Jesse K. Anttila-Hughes. Their mortality rate climbs even higher if they have siblings—doubling if they have an older sister and quadrupling if they have an older brother. The startling discovery was revealed in an analysis of 25 years’ worth of Philippine government records on typhoons, economic prosperity, and infant mortality, conducted by Anttila-Hughes, assistant professor of economics, and co-researcher Solomon Hsiang, of the University of California, Berkeley.

USFers raise $45k in aid

In the weeks after Haiyan hit the Philippines, USF students fundraised more than $43,000 and sent it to Simbahang Lingkod ng Bayan a Jesuit Catholic relief organization in Manila to buy rice, canned goods, and hygiene kits. Students also packed 200 care boxes full of clothes, blankets, food, and medical supplies, and sent them to the Philippine National Red Cross for distribution to affected families. USF’s Pilipino American Law Society raised more than $2,300 separately, and donated it to the Transnational Institute for Grassroots Research and Action. 

“What really surprised us was that infant girls accounted for all of the deaths above the usual infant mortality rates in the two years after a hurricane,” Anttila-Hughes said. “About 11,300 baby girls on average die in the two years after a typhoon, far more than the 1,480 total average deaths caused by typhoon impacts over the same period.”

Lost income the link

The girls’ deaths are tied to their parents’ lost income and the cost of rebuilding. Hard hit families can see their income drop by as much as 15 percent, the data shows. They’re forced to cut back on things like medicine and high-nutrition foods such as meat and eggs, which puts developing youngsters at risk. Baby boys don’t experience higher rates of mortality in the two years after a typhoon, the research shows. Why is unclear. It might have something to do with whether a mother nurses or with parents’ belief that girls, who generally have a lower mortality rate than boys, can persevere, said Anttila-Hughes, who has USF graduate students conducting follow-up research to learn more.

USFers head to Philippines

“What people should take away from Jesse and Solomon’s research is that the disaster in the Philippines isn’t over. For some, it’s just beginning,” said Jay Gonzalez, USF adjunct professor of politics and Philippine studies. 

This summer, Gonzalez will lead a two-week immersion class to the Philippines to introduce USF students to the struggle the infants and their families face to survive. Access to health care and sanitation is inadequate in many areas, and fossil fuels and global climate change are producing larger and stronger typhoons, Gonzalez said.

Students will study the country’s government, economic development, and human rights and environmental movements at one of the country’s most prestigious universities in the first week. In the second week, they’ll roll up their sleeves in typhoon-ravaged Culion in Palawan province and build disaster-resistant houses and community centers, assist small businesses with basic bookkeeping and loan applications, and support lobbying and advocacy efforts for government and nonprofit assistance.

'The ultimate engaged learning experience'

“Students will have a chance to see the disaster as part of a bigger socio-economic, political, and environmental web—one they’re connected to, and, if they choose, one they can influence,” Gonzalez said.

“This is going to be the ultimate engaged learning experience,” said media studies student Jordan Guingao ’16. “We won’t just be in the classroom but out helping people, learning their stories and their hardships. This type of class is one of the reasons I wanted to come to USF,” Guingao said.

by Ed Carpenter | Office of Communications and Marketing »email usfnews@usfca.edu | Twitter @usfcanews