Quantifying the effect of natural disasters on society is critical for recovery of public health services and infrastructure. The death toll can be difficult to assess in the aftermath of a major disaster. In September 2017, Hurricane Maria caused massive infrastructural damage to Puerto Rico, but its effect on mortality remains contentious. The official death count is 64.
Using a representative, stratified sample, we surveyed 3299 randomly chosen households across Puerto Rico to produce an independent estimate of all-cause mortality after the hurricane. Respondents were asked about displacement, infrastructure loss, and causes of death. We calculated excess deaths by comparing our estimated post-hurricane mortality rate with official rates for the same period in 2016.
From the survey data, we estimated a mortality rate of 14.3 deaths (95% confidence interval [CI], 9.8 to 18.9) per 1000 persons from September 20 through December 31, 2017. This rate yielded a total of 4645 excess deaths during this period (95% CI, 793 to 8498), equivalent to a 62% increase in the mortality rate as compared with the same period in 2016. However, this number is likely to be an underestimate because of survivor bias. The mortality rate remained high through the end of December 2017, and one third of the deaths were attributed to delayed or interrupted health care. Hurricane-related migration was substantial.
This household-based survey suggests that the number of excess deaths related to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico is more than 70 times the official estimate. (Funded by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and others.)
Harvard University researchers say last year’s death toll from Hurricane Maria is dramatically larger than reported. Published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the study estimates more than 4,600 people died in Puerto Rico. The official government death toll is 64. David Begnaud reports from San Juan.
https://democracynow.org – A stunning new study by researchers at Harvard has revealed the death toll in Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria may be 70 times higher than official count of 64. The new research, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, says the death toll is at least 4,645—and perhaps as many as 5,740. President Trump has so far not responded to the new study. But in October, during a visit to Puerto Rico, Trump boasted about the low official death count. With a death toll of at least 4,645, Hurricane Maria would become the second-deadliest hurricane in U.S. history—behind only the Galveston Hurricane of 1900 which killed as many as 12,000 people in Texas.
The Harvard study found that “interruption of medical care was the primary cause of sustained high mortality rates in the months after the hurricane, a finding consistent with the widely reported disruption of health systems. Health care disruption is now a growing contributor to both morbidity and mortality in natural disasters.” For more we go to San Juan, Puerto Rico where we speak with Omaya Sosa, co-founder of Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism, where she is a reporter. Her latest article is headlined, “Puerto Rico Government Did Not Prevent Most Hurricane María-Related Deaths.”
More than half the world’s children are at risk of poverty, conflict and discrimination against girls, according to a report by Save the Children.
The charity’s second End of Childhood index says more than 1.2 billion children face these threats, with 153 million facing all three.
While the global situation has improved compared with last year, the charity says progress is not fast enough.
The report comes ahead of International Children’s Day on 1 June.
Save the Children’s index says one billion children live in countries rife with poverty, about 240 million in countries affected by conflict, and 575 million girls live in countries where discrimination against women is common.
“Because of who they are and where they live, these children risk being robbed of their childhoods and future potential,” the report says.
A report released Wednesday says it’s not worth spending billions of dollars on a harbor-wide barrier wall to prevent coastal flooding in Boston. Improving aspects of the shoreline, the report says, would be a more cost-effective way to protect the city.
UMass Boston Professor Paul Kirshen, who led the study, walked down the boardwalk along South Boston’s Fan Pier next to the federal courthouse on Tuesday and pointed across the channel to the airport.
“The inner barrier would essentially stretch across the water from Logan over to around this area here,” he said. The inner harbor barrier was one of the options Kirshen’s team studied in the new report. “It’d be sort of like a stone, rock-covered structure,” he said. “But because this distance is so short, most of the system would actually be a large gate.”
That system is estimated to cost about $7 billion.
“So it’s very expensive,” Kirshen said. His UMass team was tasked with figuring out if it’s worth it to spend that much.
In addition to the inner harbor barrier, they looked at another barrier farther out. As he stood on Fan Pier, Kirshen pointed off to the left where that outer barrier would start, at Deer Island. “And then it would swing around those islands there and then swing around to Hull,” he said. That’s a distance of about four miles, which would make it the longest such barrier in the world, at a cost nearly $12 billion.
Kirshen said as they looked at the feasibility of a barrier wall, they needed to make sure it would protect the city from flooding, preserve water quality in the harbor, and allow for shipping and boating.
They looked at three options to see if any of them could meet all those goals. One idea was a dike that would stretch all the way from the North Shore to the South Shore. But that didn’t meet any of the goals. And both the inner and outer harbor barriers had their own challenges.
Image from Feasibility of Harbor-wide Barrier Systems Report, Sources: Arcadis, Esri World Imagery
For example, the inner harbor barrier would restrict the flow of water out of the harbor. “Because during a storm it might be closed as long as a couple of days, all the freshwater would build up behind it,” Kirshen said. “And unfortunately, a lot of the freshwater that comes into Boston Harbor during a storm is polluted.”
And both the inner and outer barriers would be tough for boats, because the barriers would not reduce the tidal flow.
“It would increase the velocity of water going through the gate openings,” he said. That’s because there would be a smaller opening, but the same amount of water going through.
Also, there’s some question about how long those gates would even work, since they’d likely have to be closed more and more often as sea levels continue to rise. “Eventually you might be closing it like every week,” he said. And the way these gates are engineered, they’re not designed to be closed weekly. I mean they’re mostly designed to be closed a couple of times a decade.”
The gates of Maeslant Barrier in Rotterdam are the same style that was looked at in the study.Alamy/Frans Lemmens
The report says a more cost-effective way to protect the city would be to invest in measures along the shoreline, like building up protective berms or creating floodable green space.
“The outcome of this is it’s reaffirming the city is doing the right thing by focusing on these shore-based systems along the inner harbor waterfront,” said Bud Ris of the Boston Green Ribbon Commission. “That’s exactly what they need to be doing.”
Bud Ris of the Boston Blue Ribbon Commission and Paul Kirshen of the UMass Boston Sustainable Solutions Lab.Craig LeMoult/WGBH News
And in places where buildings are right up against the shore, Ris said it may be time to consider expanding land into the harbor. “There’s sort of been a prohibition on any more filling in Boston Harbor,” he said. “However, for resilience purposes I think we have to rethink some of that.”
In the next two years or so, we’re going to see a shift from just planning these things to actually doing them, Ris said. “Where are we going to start to build these shore-based systems along those inner harbor waterfronts, and how are we going to pay for it are going to be the next big questions.”
At the same time, Kirshen said, we’re going to need to keep our focus on reducing the greenhouse gases that are causing climate change. If we can get control of that, he said, we could hold sea level rise in Boston to two feet this century. If not, at the rate we’re going, he said, we could see up to 10 feet.
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