Science, Science and Tech

The Children of Typhoon Haiyan

While many of us are gearing up for the season of plenty, as always there are those who are not as fortunate. Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines earlier this month with the estimated death toll of over 5,200. This natural disaster has left many without food, water, shelter or electricity but the long term consequences could be even worse.


It has been shown that the number of deaths related to the typhoon over the next year could be 15 times those killed as a direct consequence of the disaster, with many of these being female infants; this works out to 78,000 people. Jesse Anttila-Hughes from the University of San Francisco, and Solomon Hsiang from the University of California, analysed the wind speeds of 81 provinces between 1978 and 2008 and compared this to the number of deaths over the same period; they also looked at family income and spending. They found that the death rates of infants under one years old increased in areas hit by higher winds, and this closely matched the rising loss of income caused by the disaster; as many of the children were not conceived when the storms occurred, it shows that they did not die as a direct result of this, but rather the economic impact.

Furthermore, many of these excess deaths affected female infants and overall the chance of them dying doubles in the two years after a typhoon compared to those before them. Anttila-Hughes predicts that the reason for this may stem from the fact that, in the Philippines, baby girls are seen as stronger than boys, as males normally have higher death rates. Therefore in difficult situations such as the typhoon, mothers are more likely to stop breast feeding earlier so they are able to return to work and earn money. However the weaning food then given to female infants is often made using the polluted water following these disasters, and this may well lead to the increased mortality rates. This emphasises just one of the possible long term consequences of this typhoon and the need for continued support to go to the Philippines for the next few years as they overcome this disaster.


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July 2021
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