Sunday, November 19, 2023

Poverty in Ireland one hundred years ago

Southern Belle, Quicksilver and I watched a short movie on Friday night.

Southern Belle picked it out. It was Angela's Christmas which is an animated short set in Limerick, Ireland circa 1910. The backdrop for the movie is a grinding poverty that we associate with places like Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

A few quick searches on the internet suggest that the poverty was not exaggerated. In fact, the rooms were probably much smaller, more crowded and less well lit than shown in the movie.

Just a very-quick comparison between Haiti and Limerick, Ireland before 1940. I apologize for not finding data that matches up exactly to the movie's time-frame but this is close and it is more recent so we can assume it was pretty bad twenty years earlier than the earliest data shown.


According to the most recent estimates by UNFPA and partner UN agencies, a woman in Haiti has a one in 80 chance of dying due to pregnancy or child birth, compared to the region-wide risk of one in 510. The infant mortality rate is 59 deaths for every 1,000 live births, according to the country’s most recent demographic and health survey (DHS).   Source



85 deaths per thousand births in Irish cities. That is one-in-twelve babies not seeing their first birthday. It is worth noting that the rate did not start coming down until 1946. Source
In the rural areas, the infant mortality rate was 30% lower than for urban areas.


Causes of infant deaths in Ireland.
The paper suggests that many deaths coded as "Congenital" issues were the result of in-utero and post-partum malnutrition. Convulsions were likely driven by fevers from infections, including gastroenteritis.

The up-spike during World War II was due to the Irish economy dying-on-the-vine. Even though Ireland declare itself neutral during WWII, the north-Atlantic blockade by Germany effectively shut off food and industrial materials shipped to Ireland. Furthermore, goods that would have been shipped to Ireland from Britain (like coal) were diverted to the war-effort.

One scene in the movie is telling. Angela's brother is running to the outhouse to relieve himself. There is no means of washing hands in the primitive facility. That means that soiled hands touch the door-handle and everybody who enters the house afterward is getting (potentially) contaminated fecal matter on their hands. The paper referenced earlier ties rapid spread of diarrhea (and other illnesses) to "shared facilities" that is, communal outhouses.

If you find yourself in a refugee camp, have every person in your tent wash their hands immediately after visiting the toilet before they enter the tent.

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