Report details high costs of Philippine typhoons for families, baby girls

Nov 20, 2013 by Kathleen Maclay
Report details high costs of Philippine typhoons for families, baby girls
Researchers say that the high death rate for girls likely relates to families’ economic constraints and coping strategies long after a typhoon is past. Credit: iStock photo

Tropical cyclones hitting the Philippines inflict more and longer-lasting economic loss than generally recognized, and are linked to dramatic increases in mortality rates for infant girls for up to 24 months after a typhoon, according to a study co-authored by a UC Berkeley assistant professor of public policy.

The research examines the aftermath of typhoons that have struck the Philippines over the last 25 years and was conducted by economists Solomon Hsiang at UC Berkeley and Jesse Anttila-Hughes of the University of San Francisco. The results may offer guidance for a wide range of post-disaster recovery efforts in the spotlight since the record-strength Typhoon Haiyan struck the islands on Nov. 8.

The economists found that while officials report roughly 740 deaths on average every year due to exposure in the Philippines, post-typhoon mortality among baby girls is approximately 15 times higher than that, likely due to the indirect poverty-worsening effects of the storm. Because the Philippines is so hard hit by typhoons every year, the authors estimate that these delayed infant deaths account for approximately 13 percent of the country's overall infant mortality rate.

The risk of a baby girl dying after a typhoon doubles if she has older sisters in the home, and the risk doubles again if the she has older brothers – suggesting that the competition for resources among siblings may play a key role in these deaths. The researchers did not find a spike in the for baby boys, but they uncovered an elevated mortality risk among baby girls that lasts up to two years after a typhoon.

"It seems unlikely that the households in which female infants die are intentionally allowing these infants to perish," the researchers report. "It is more plausible that parents believe their newborn can cope with higher-than-average levels of neglect, and that there will be limited permanent damage. Unfortunately, for a small number of unlucky families, the assumption proves false."

The authors also speculate that parents may provide more or different food or care to baby boys than girls, perhaps unconsciously.

Hsiang and Anttila-Hughes said that the high death rate for baby girls is probably the specific result of the economic aftermath that follows a typhoon's destruction and the coping strategies used by families that struggle economically for months or years after a typhoon.The researchers document how families dramatically reduce spending on healthcare, education and nutritious foods for years after they lose their homes, property, infrastructure and income.

"Infants are more fragile than other family members, and some can't handle it when families cut back. Their health deteriorates gradually, and then one day, they just don't pull through," said Hsiang. "We think that economic factors are key, because roughly half of the baby girls who die weren't even born or conceived when the various storms hit."

Report details high costs of Philippine typhoons for families, baby girls
The graph above compares average annual economic and human losses to typhoons experienced by Filipinos the year of — and the year after — a typhoon. It shows that losses suffered after the storm passes are roughly 15 times larger than official estimates that are primarily based on damage incurred during a storm.

The spike in female infant deaths underscores the huge economic adjustments for typhoon survivors. The study found that in an average year, the income of Filipino households in typhoon-hit areas is depressed 6.6 percent due to typhoons that occurred the year before, leading to a 7.1 percent reduction in average household spending.

However, when particularly strong storms strike, incomes may fall more than 15 percent the following year – compounding loss from damage to a family's home and belongings. And although or maybe partially because typhoons are a regular weather feature in the Philippines, families don't seem to save in advance or borrow much money for recovery expenses.

Instead, Hsiang and Anttila-Hughes said, during a difficult year families reduce spending, primarily on medicine and education by about 25 percent, transport and communication by about 35 percent, and high-nutrient foods that include meat, dairy products, eggs and fruit by about 30 percent.

The researchers used a physical model that Hsiang developed in 2010 to replicate and record typhoon exposure in individual provinces. To measure household impacts, they matched their reconstructed storm data with economic information collected every three years by the Filipino government on family income, consumption and physical assets. They then linked both datasets to a third data set on births and infant mortality.

This triad of data sets allowed the researchers to characterize the multi-dimensional household responses presented in the working paper,"Destruction, Disinvestment and Death: Economic and Human Losses Following Environmental Disaster" and provide an alarming look at climate adaptation and mitigation practices.

"The fact that we continue to observe large typhoon impacts in one of the world's most intense typhoon climates where populations have already adapted," Hsiang said, "suggests that costs are so high that populations think that they are better off suffering typhoon losses rather than investing in additional protection"

This indicates, he said, that a central challenge for policy makers is to convince people to spend on costly investments that will protect them in the future. "It's a bit like trying to convince people to wear a seat belt while driving a car or a helmet while riding a bike," Hsiang said.

The researchers suggest several policies to help improve the post-storm situation for Filipinos:

  • Develop credit subsidies for low-income families
  • Expand insurance networks over larger regions, to reduce risk
  • Educate parents about the risks of post-typhoon child neglect
  • Tax goods like tobacco and alcohol to finance subsidies for children
  • Enhance enforcement of building codes
  • Increase typhoon-related research and development funding

Explore further: UN: Besides Haiyan, 2013 storm season near average

More information: Anttila-Hughes, Jesse Keith and Hsiang, Solomon M., Destruction, Disinvestment, and Death: Economic and Human Losses Following Environmental Disaster (February 18, 2013). Available at SSRN: ssrn.com/abstract=2220501 or dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2220501

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

NASA investigates Typhoon Haiyan's intense rainfall

Nov 05, 2013

As Typhoon Haiyan has been strengthening, NASA's TRMM satellite investigated how much rain was falling throughout the storm. Typhoon Haiyan is now closing in on Yap and Palau with a forecast to move through ...

Recommended for you

Predicting bioavailable cadmium levels in soils

15 hours ago

New Zealand's pastoral landscapes are some of the loveliest in the world, but they also contain a hidden threat. Many of the country's pasture soils have become enriched in cadmium. Grasses take up this toxic heavy metal, ...

Oil drilling possible 'trigger' for deadly Italy quakes

19 hours ago

Italy's Emilia-Romagna region on Tuesday suspended new drilling as it published a report that warned that hydrocarbon exploitation may have acted as a "trigger" in twin earthquakes that killed 26 people in ...

Snow is largely a no-show for Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race

19 hours ago

On March 1, 65 mushers and their teams of dogs left Anchorage, Alaska, on a quest to win the Iditarod—a race covering 1,000 miles of mountain ranges, frozen rivers, dense forest, tundra and coastline. According ...

UN weather agency warns of 'El Nino' this year

19 hours ago

The UN weather agency Tuesday warned there was a good chance of an "El Nino" climate phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean this year, bringing droughts and heavy rainfall to the rest of the world.

Study shows less snowpack will harm ecosystem

20 hours ago

(Phys.org) —A new study by CAS Professor of Biology Pamela Templer shows that milder winters can have a negative impact both on trees and on the water quality of nearby aquatic ecosystems, far into the warm growing season.

User comments : 0

More news stories

UN weather agency warns of 'El Nino' this year

The UN weather agency Tuesday warned there was a good chance of an "El Nino" climate phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean this year, bringing droughts and heavy rainfall to the rest of the world.

Tech giants look to skies to spread Internet

The shortest path to the Internet for some remote corners of the world may be through the skies. That is the message from US tech giants seeking to spread the online gospel to hard-to-reach regions.

Patent talk: Google sharpens contact lens vision

(Phys.org) —A report from Patent Bolt brings us one step closer to what Google may have in mind in developing smart contact lenses. According to the discussion Google is interested in the concept of contact ...

Wireless industry makes anti-theft commitment

A trade group for wireless providers said Tuesday that the biggest mobile device manufacturers and carriers will soon put anti-theft tools on the gadgets to try to deter rampant smartphone theft.