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Life Expectancy in the Virgin Islands

Acquired in part by Britain in 1672 and the rest by the United States in 1917, the Virgin Islands are a semi-autonomous group of about 90 Caribbean islands of varying size about 50 miles east of Puerto Rico, administered as the territories of the British Virgin Islands (BVI) and United States Virgin Islands (USVI). The islands are home to booming year-round tourism industry, attracting visitors every year to its 200 miles of beaches and over 7,000 acres of scenic national parkland. For the islands’ 150,000 residents, though, their expected 79 years of life are more complicated than a brief sojourn in a tropical paradise. Living in the Caribbean presents its own set of unique challenges, but the resilient population continues to prosper in spite of them. Here are 10 facts about life expectancy in the Virgin Islands.

10 Facts About Life Expectancy in the Virgin Islands

  1. The islands are vulnerable to hurricanes and their remote location makes repair efforts difficult. While recent hurricanes have not been a leading cause of death in the Virgin Islands, their effects have harshly impacted the locals’ quality of life. In June 2018, NPR reported that relief crews were still working in the islands to restore power and water after the devastating back-to-back Category 5 hurricane Irma and Category 4 hurricane Maria that tore through the Caribbean in September 2017.
  2. Residents have some serious concerns about health care: For a 2012 study published in the Journal of the Association of Black Nursing Faculty, nursing and sociology professionals conducted focus groups in the Virgin Islands to “discover how residents of the United States Virgin Islands think about their health, health status, health problems, and the quality of the health care delivery system.” Common concerns shared by the focus groups included limited resources and high costs of insurance, co-pay and services. Because of this, many Virgin Islanders are forced to either go to great lengths to obtain sufficient healthcare, such as traveling to Puerto Rico or the mainland United States, or forgo seeking medical treatment altogether.
  3. Infant mortality rates are higher than in the mainland United States: The CIA World Factbook states that the Virgin Islands experience an average of 7.7 infant mortalities out of 1,000 live births, almost 75 percent more than the United States despite its status as a territory of the latter. Data indicating the exact cause of this statistic is unavailable, though it can likely be attributed to the great difficulty of health care access at one of the only two hospitals servicing the three United States Virgin Islands, in tandem with the territory’s inflated medical prices. Fortunately, this figure still places the Virgin Islands firmly in the bottom 30 percent of countries by highest infant mortality rates.
  4. The leading causes of death are not too different from the United States’: In 2017, the Institution for Health Metrics and Evaluation determined that despite the Virgin Islands’ issues with inclement weather and access to resources, the leading causes of death (heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer) are all similar to those of the US. These issues, with the exception of cancer, can largely be traced to poor local nutritional practices and a lack of proper dietary and physical education on the islands.
  5. The islands are poor:  Ranking 181st in GDP purchasing power parity, the Virgin Islands are almost in the bottom 20 percent of world economies. The internet lacks recent data on poverty in the USVI, the latest available data put over one in five families below the poverty line. With health care so difficult to access and most goods and food imported and sold at a much higher markup price, this forces many families to choose between putting food on the table and seeking medical attention.
  6. Tourism and trade are the Virgin Islands’ primary economic activities, contributing to low wages and a low standard of living: Due to its limitations in climate and space, the agriculture and manufacturing sections of the Virgin Islands are economically marginal. As a result, tourism and trade account for nearly 47 percent of the USVI’s GDP and most Virgin Islanders work low-wage service, hospitality and transportation jobs, making it difficult to afford commodities like medicine and food that must be imported rather than produced domestically. Fortunately, NGOs work to make necessities more affordable for Virgin Islanders. One such NGO, Patient Assist VI, connects struggling patients with affordable prescription drugs and medical care they otherwise would not receive.
  7. Murder rates are high, but they are decreasing: In 2017, a study conducted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime determined the USVI had the fourth-highest murder rate in the world, citing 52 reported murders per 100,000 inhabitants. The FBI said that in 2016, the USVI had the highest murder rate per capita in the US and its territories. However, according to The St. Thomas Source, a local publication, only half that amount has occurred in 2019 by mid-September. Most of these murders are concentrated in the urbanized islands St. Thomas and St. Croix, where NGOs such as Project Promise work to guide at-risk youth and tackle the underlying causes of crime and violence in the islands, providing local middle and high schoolers with tutors, life coaches and opportunities to get involved in volunteering and extracurricular education. Since 2015, Project Promise has renovated playgrounds, planted gardens and provided children with school supplies and access to health care to give the children of the Virgin Islands a brighter future.
  8. Despite economic challenges, the Virgin Islands have a working infrastructure: Though hurricanes Irma and Maria, shattered the islands’ infrastructure, it has since recovered and provided power and water to most of its residents. All of the islands have access to electricity and access to clean drinking water via local ocean water desalination plants, thanks to federal aid, local reconstruction efforts and the thriving partnership between locals and volunteer organizations such as All Hands and Hearts, which labored for 18 months to restore homes and rebuild a dozen schools in the wake of Irma and Maria.
  9. Life expectancy in the Virgin Islands is higher than in neighboring areas: According to the World Bank, the Virgin Islands have had a higher life expectancy than its neighbors in the Caribbean and Latin America. While the gap has closed significantly over the last 60 years, the Virgin Islands still boasts a life expectancy of 79, four more years than the region’s average of 75.
  10. The Virgin Islands ranks in the top 20 percent on global life expectancy lists: The CIA World Factbook states that the Virgin Islands rank at 49th place for average life expectancy, outranking many of the world’s countries and territories by a significant margin.

These 10 facts about life expectancy in the Virgin Islands demonstrate a pattern of hardship and resilience, while also highlighting the need for more self-sustaining local industry and heavy investment in hurricane preparation to protect its residents and improve their quality of life.

– Calvin Lemieux
Photo: Flickr

 

Living Conditions in the Virgin Islands

The U.S. Virgin Islands are a tourism hotspot in the Caribbean comprised of four major islands: St. Croix, St. Thomas, St. John and Water Island. Many people retire on the islands to enjoy the white sandy beaches and blue coastal waters. However, this list of top 10 facts about living conditions in the Virgin Islands goes beyond the images of tropical paradise to get a closer look at life on the islands.

Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in the Virgin Islands

  1. The average household income in the U.S. Virgin Islands is $37,254 according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This is 75 percent of the mainland’s average income. Its economy relies heavily on tourism which makes up more than half of the islands’ GDP. More than 2 million tourists come to the Virgin Islands every year. However, when hurricanes damage the islands, they hurt the economy as well.
  2. The territory is $2 billion in debt due to hurricane damage, the collapse of sugar production and the closure of factories. In 2012, the Hovensa refinery closed down, leaving the islands without its largest employer.
  3. Hurricanes Irma and Maria damaged up to 90 percent of the U.S. Virgin Islands Water and Power Authorities’ (VIWAPA) transmission and distribution lines. The U.S. provided $1.9 billion for recovery to the islands. The Virgin Islands have since regained its water and power, but many top hotels and resorts will still be closed until late 2019.
  4. The Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands is a nonprofit organization that supports aid to the islands and works with the government to provide essential resources. In addition, All Hands and Hearts and Repair the World are two groups which provide relief to the islands following the aftermath of hurricanes.
  5. The U.S. Virgin Islands have three main sectors of employment: mining, logging and construction; accommodation and food and leisure and hospitality. Because of hurricanes, as the tourism sector declines, the construction and rebuilding sector is experiencing growth. Following the 2017 hurricanes, employment declined by 7.8 percent.
  6. The cost of living in the U.S. Virgin Islands is higher than on the U.S. mainland. On average, apartments cost $2,000 per month. A two-bedroom house costs at least $285,000.
  7. Not everyone can afford health care on the U.S. Virgin Islands. There are high levels of HIV on the islands with 31.4 people out of 100,000 diagnosed with HIV. In the continental U.S., only 12.5 people out of 100,000 people have HIV. In addition, doctors who come from the U.S. mainland often have issues communicating with locals.
  8. Water conservation is important on the islands because it only rains an average of 38 inches per year. Many residents rely on cisterns to store water instead of using the main water supply. This can cause problems with the water not being safe to drink. To combat this issue, the U.S. Virgin Islands have constructed new, efficient desalination plants.
  9. The middle and lower class is largely made up of Black Americans. Hurricane seasons push many people in this demographic deeper into debt when they have to reconstruct or rebuild. It is estimated that over 480 people are homeless in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
  10. The U.S. Virgin Islands provide private and public schooling to kids K-12. The University of the Virgin Islands offers 43 degree-options. It has campuses on both St. Thomas and St. Croix and there are 2,500 undergraduate and graduate students who attend the university. Though many schools were destroyed during the hurricanes in 2017, many have been rebuilt.

The U.S. Virgin Islands are more than just a tropical paradise with luxury homes. There are differences between the locals and those who move there from the mainland. Hurricanes wreak havoc on the small island territories every hurricane season, causing the islands to struggle economically and physically. This list of top 10 facts about living conditions in the Virgin Islands is not exhaustive, but it paints a clearer picture that the island territory is not solely about palm trees and sea breeze.

Jodie Filenius

Photo: Flickr

Florida Universities Waived Rules and Regulations for Caribbean ScholarsFollowing a request from Governor Rick Scott, Florida schools have waived their rules and regulations for Caribbean scholars who have been left deprived and affected by Hurricanes Maria and Irma. State Education Commissioner, Pam Stewart was one of the signees of the order for students from Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and other Caribbean nations.

In a public address, Stewart announced, “Entire communities were destroyed, and we do not know how long it will take to restore schools and other essential infrastructure…It is critical that these students and teachers have the opportunity to participate in our state’s outstanding public education system. We are pleased to remove barriers to enrollment and help these students and teachers return to the classroom.”

As of now, students from the islands are able to continue their classes and permeate into the Florida public school curriculums without their birth certificates, official transcripts and health forms that transfer students would traditionally be required to have. Also, those who are seeking teaching positions are being given the opportunity to apply without their health records and age verifications, along with proof of degree-attainment and subject-mastery documentation. The federal government has obliged school districts to label students affected by hurricanes as “homeless” to allow the students to be eligible for free meals and more accessible transportation.

Futhermore, some public colleges in Florida have agreed to offer in-state tuition to affected Caribbean students. These colleges include: Broward College, Hillsborough Community College, Miami Dade College, Palm Beach State College, Seminole State College of Florida, the University of Central Florida, Valencia College and St. Petersburg College.

In a statement made by Scott, the governor claimed he wanted to, “ensure students from Puerto Rico can more easily continue their education here in Florida and that teachers from Puerto Rico have every opportunity to continue to succeed in their careers.” He also pointed out that, “as families work to rebuild their lives following the unbelievable devastation caused by Hurricane Maria, we are doing everything we can to help them throughout this process.”

While their education is furthered in the U.S., many of the students wish for recovery for their respective homes. However, because these Florida schools have waived their rules and regulations for Caribbean scholars affected by the hurricanes, many students are able to continue following their dreams and their career paths. Without initiatives like these, many hurricane victims would have to be stuck on pause until the recovery of their homes.

Jalil Perry

Photo: Flickr

Hurricane relief in Puerto RicoAfter weathering Hurricane Irma (the largest hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic) and Hurricane Maria (the fifth largest hurricane ever to hit the U.S.), Puerto Rico is in desperate need of hurricane relief. The island still lacks power, as the storm knocked out 80 percent of the island’s power transmission lines, and the only electricity is coming from generators. Fuel, food and water shortages are creating a massive humanitarian crisis and are driving the urgent need for hurricane relief in Puerto Rico.

The storms affected an already economically crippled Puerto Rico, which is under a regime of debt-driven austerity measures. In May, Puerto Rico declared bankruptcy, and it has since been trying to restructure more than $70 billion in debt. An already stagnating economy will struggle even more under the financial burden of reconstruction after the hurricane.

The call for hurricane relief in Puerto Rico has already been answered, although much more support is needed. Some 5,000 active-duty troops and National Guardsmen members have been deployed to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has 600 people on the ground coordinating relief efforts. FEMA reports that “more than 4.4 million meals, 6.5 million liters of water, nearly 300 infant and toddler kits to support 3,000 infants for a full week, 70,000 tarps, and 15,000 rolls of roof sheeting [have been sent] to the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria’s landfall.”

In addition, the current administration granted a 10-day waiver from the Jones Act, a maritime regulation that requires all shipping from one U.S. port to another be carried on American-made and American-operated shipping vessels. This regulation itself is economically draining for Puerto Rico as it drastically increases the price of shipping. A 2010 study by the University of Puerto Rico found that the Jones Act cost the island $537 million per year.

Luckily, the waiver will allow goods to enter Puerto Rico more efficiently; however, the long-term effects of the raised prices in the U.S. territory will still be felt if the Act stays in place. It is unlikely that the Jones Act will be repealed without broad support because President Trump has stated, “We have a lot of shippers and a lot of people that work in the shipping industry that don’t want the Jones Act lifted.”

Hurricane relief in Puerto Rico must be a priority for the U.S. going forward, but it must also be coupled with a renewed sensitivity to the ever-present economic struggles that the small island faces. Puerto Rico is a territory created in the legacy of U.S. colonialism and their short and long-term suffering must be treated with urgency. Hopefully, in the wake of this disaster, the U.S. government will continue to work with Puerto Rico beyond the immediate recovery efforts and towards alleviating the poverty and austerity created by the debt crisis.

Jeffery Harrell

Photo: Google

How to Help People in Puerto RicoOn September 20, 2017, Hurricane Maria battered the island of Puerto Rico, leaving the island’s energy grid destroyed and 3.4 million people without power. The governor of Puerto Rico estimated it could take a month or more to get electricity back to the whole island. The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) stated it may take three to four months. Before explaining how to help people in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, learn why restoring electricity quickly matters for this territory.

Restoring Energy to Puerto Rico

Electricity is an essential part of life, necessary for improving the lives of people around the world. In Puerto Rico, restoring energy is vital for restoring stability post-hurricane, as a lack of access can be devastating. The greatest impact is felt by women and children. According to the U.N., about 17,000 children die each day from causes that are preventable with sufficient electricity. This includes access to clean water, better sanitation, adequate food, medicine and more education to improve earning power—all things that can be taken for granted in the developed West. Restoring power to Puerto Rico is urgent. The lives of the world’s most vulnerable populations – women and children – are at stake.

Energy is also essential for economic development. When access to energy is impeded, daily life halts. Access to energy means that many people enjoy shorter work days, better transportation and healthier diets. Energy also increases productivity in agriculture and industrial fields. One form of energy that impacts the wealth of a country greatly is electricity. Losing access to electricity could have alarming consequences for Puerto Rico’s economy.

How to Help People in Puerto Rico After Hurricane Maria

Want to know how to help people in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria? The most crucial need is restoring power. Currently, PREPA is working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and utility companies from New York, Georgia and Florida to restore power.

Another priority is aiding Puerto Rico in its clean up efforts. In a Los Angeles Times interview, local Sonia Viruet stated, “First we need help cleaning. We can try to do it ourselves but it will take too long.”

Finally, a priority to help people in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria is to provide them with basic human needs such as food, clothing and shelter. Some organizations helping to meet these needs are:

1. American Red Cross
2. ConPRmetidos – a Puerto Rico based non-profit
3. Unidos por Puerto Rico – created by the First Lady of Puerto Rico
5. UNICEF
6. Save the Children

Global Giving is another organizations meeting the immediate need for food, fuel, clean water, hygiene products and shelter. Once initial relief work is complete, this fund will transition to support longer-term recovery efforts run by local, vetted organizations responding to this disaster.

The recent landfalls of Hurricanes Irma and Maria have devastated the island of Puerto Rico. While the damage is grim, there is hope in the fact that the island has bounced back from catastrophic disasters before, such as in 1969 after Hurricane Hugo. With the aid of compassionate people, Puerto Rico should return to normalcy sooner than later.

Jeanine Thomas

Photo: Flickr

Natural Disasters Hit Poor the HardestThe aftermath of Hurricane Irma, which hit the Caribbean and United States in September 2017, along with the 8.1 magnitude earthquake that shook Mexico also in September illustrate the total destruction entire communities face when hit by natural disasters. Natural disasters have been proven to increase poverty and most adversely affect those who are already poor.

The category five Hurricane Irma made landfall on Antigua, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Barbuda, Guadeloupe and more, totaling over 10 Caribbean countries affected. In Barbuda alone, 90 percent of vehicles and buildings have been destroyed and many people have been left homeless. Because Barbuda is not as wealthy as other Caribbean countries, it cannot as quickly rebuild for its people, leaving its citizens more impoverished than ever.

Mexico’s 8.1 magnitude earthquake has also left many suddenly in poverty or more impoverished than they previously were. Many buildings were reduced completely to rubble, particularly in the town of Juchitan, which was hit hardest by the earthquake. Residents of the town slept in streets and parks following the earthquake to avoid aftershock and because of damages to numerous homes creating uninhabitable conditions.

Juchitan is located in Oaxaca, a rural region in southwestern Mexico, and one of the poorest areas in the country. Jorge Valenica, a reporter from Mexico City, discussed the damaging effects of the earthquake on Juchitan in an interview with NPR. He stated, “As with many natural disasters, the communities that get hit the worst sometimes are the communities that were already the most in need.”

The World Bank reports that poor people are so adversely affected by natural disasters because they are usually more exposed to natural hazards – i.e. their homes, if they have them, are not built as well, and they have less access to evacuation resources than those who are middle and upper class. Unfortunately, when the poor lose necessities like shelter, they typically do not have savings, family, friends or the government to fall back on. Even those who do not completely lose their homes often cannot avoid repairs and renovations due to new building standards created to make homes safer.

In light of the worsening of poverty in places hit by natural disasters, organizations such as Oxfam continue to work to provide basic needs to individuals, focusing upon hygiene and sanitation for those most affected by the storms. Oxfam’s main goal after Hurricane Irma is to contain and eliminate any cholera and other diseases caused by damage to water infrastructure, helping to keep people healthy. Natural disasters continue to hit the world’s poor the hardest, but even in the wake of a catastrophe, goodness, giving and help can be found.

Mary Kate Luft

Photo: Flickr

Human Rights in the Virgin IslandsWhile many people may have heard of the islands’ gorgeous vistas, there is much less talk about human rights in the Virgin Islands, an archipelago that forms the border between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. The islands are politically divided into the British, U.S. and Spanish Virgin Islands.

The British Virgin Islands are essentially free from human rights abuses. The strong legal system does not include gaps that could worsen the situation for the poor and vulnerable. The government is committed to continuously improving the laws to better protect the citizens and residents of the British Virgin Islands. The government undertook an extensive campaign to improve the working conditions of the public sector and to publicize human rights and the availability of government services. However, there is evidence that a legal aid system that was introduced is underfunded and somewhat ineffective.

Poor immigrant workers in the British Virgin Islands are the most likely to experience discrimination in the workplace. While the Human Rights Reporting Co-ordinating Committee conducts public education programs, many immigrants feel intimidated to come forward or feel it is unlikely they will receive a favorable decision from a court. Immigrant households tend to have less access to courts and welfare services as well.

While the British Virgin Islands are self-governing territory, this is not the case in the U.S. Virgin Islands. U.S. Virgin Islands residents are U.S. citizens, but cannot cast votes for president in the Electoral College. However, they do participate in political parties’ presidential nominating process by holding caucuses and sending delegates to the Democratic and Republican national conventions. In the U.S. Congress, they are represented by a delegate who can vote in congressional committees but not in the House itself. There is currently a lawsuit ongoing to fully enfranchise all U.S. citizens in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The Spanish Virgin Islands, ironically, are not a Spanish territory. They belonged to Spain before the Spanish-American War in 1898. The islands are now a part of Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory. Puerto Rico also faces the same challenges regarding enfranchisement and congressional representation as the U.S. Virgin Islands.

While the situations may be different in the British Virgin Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, there is good reason to hope for improvement in human rights in the Virgin Islands. The government of the British Virgin Islands has shown it is not afraid to tackle the issue and make improvements, and activists and lawyers are working to improve the political situation in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

Brock Hall
Photo: Flickr

How to Help Suriname: Development and IndustrySuriname, the smallest country in Latin America, has had one of the strongest economies in the Caribbean in the last ten years. However, although the economy continued to grow until 2015, the nation has since been hit with a devastating recession. Why? Suriname’s economy has been built on a few key exports (gold, oil, bauxite and alumina) that may be plentiful, but are also unable to withstand shocks to the global system. In other words, if the price of these few items drops, then the economy struggles to withstand the pressure and goes into a recession. Although this seems like a huge problem, and it has been over the last few years, Suriname does have steps it can take to ensure that the economy can better withstand fluctuations in the international market. The first step: taking the economy out of the government’s hands.

Privatizing Industry and Changing Location
Over half of all workers in Suriname are employed by the government, which controls the majority of the industries, from gold mines to oil refineries. In order to diversify the economy and help Suriname, the government must take a step back and allow for privatization. Private industries are more competitive, which usually increases the workers’ salaries and allows for a competitive market, strengthening the economy and making it less prone to shocks. In the wake of the 2009 recession in the United States, private industries were relied upon to bolster the economy and lead it back to pre-recession levels. The recession in Suriname requires the same kind of private industry investment to revitalize the economy.

Another way to help Suriname is to move key industries to safer, less disaster-prone areas. Hurricane Irma hit the Caribbean hard, proving harmful to an industry that is already vulnerable to flooding. Due to these flood risks, if Suriname does not endeavor to diversify industry, they should at least try to create new mines in higher elevation areas less prone to flooding. Gold mining is one of the major industries that the government is constantly expanding, and considering how valuable even a small amount of gold can be, this industry should be protected.

International Cooperation and Investment
Additionally, the government of Suriname has identified Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) as a way to grow their economy and develop. FDI would provide investment that bolsters several industry sectors, primarily crude oil and mining. One such investment includes $1 billion from the United States that is invested annually. However, the Suriname government worries that this investment agreement will not be honored due to a decline in world market prices for gold. Therefore, the government has examined other options, including increasing investment in oil refining and ethanol production. However, once again, this is a state-owned industry, which means it is more vulnerable to market fluctuations.

Other options as to how to help Suriname on the international front are through support from the international organization ALBA, in which Suriname takes part. ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our Americas) has limited resources, and one of its key members, Venezuela, is on the brink of being a failed state, but it does provide a way to link Central American and Caribbean nations in trade. Ultimately, if ALBA were to gain more support and investment from other trade organizations and Suriname privatizes some of their vulnerable industries, the path of how to help Suriname is relatively straightforward and hopeful.

Rachael Blandau
Photo: Flickr