Disasters often have a significant impact on public health. In more vulnerable parts of the world, that impact can be exacerbated by weak or nonexistent health care systems and infrastructure. In this section, we will explore some of the most common health issues associated with international disasters.
Following are some of the most common health impacts of disasters. Select each issue to learn more about it.
All major disasters potentially present an increased risk of communicable diseases due to overcrowding and deteriorating sanitation. Table 1 summarizes several additional health impacts of selected disaster types.
|Disaster Type||Deaths||Severe injuries requiring extensive treatment||Damage to health facilities||Damage to water systems||Food shortage||Major population movements|
|Earthquakes||Many||Many||Severe, structure and equipment||Severe||Rare (may occur due to economic and logistic factors)||Rare (may occur in heavily damaged urban areas)|
|High winds, without flooding||Few||Moderate||Severe||Light||Rare (may occur due to economic and logistic factors)||Rare (may occur in heavily damaged urban areas)|
|Tidal waves / flash floods||Many||Few||Severe, but localized||Severe||Common||Common, generally limited|
|Slow-onset floods||Few||Few||Severe, equipment only||Light||Common||Common, generally limited|
|Landslides||Many||Few||Severe, but localized||Severe, but localized||Rare||Common, generally limited|
|Volcanoes / Lahars||Many||Few||Severe, structure and equipment||Severe||Rare||Common, generally limited|
Table 1 - Health Impact of Selected Major Disasters
Notice, for example, that earthquakes cause many deaths, while slow-onset floods generally cause few. Floods produce serious food shortages, whereas earthquakes, which are localized, generally do not.
Note that the information in Table 1 does not even consider the impact of climate change on health. The World Health Organization now considers climate change one of the top ten threats to global health.
The Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the leading international body for the assessment of climate change. It was established in 1988 to provide the world with a clear scientific view on the current state of knowledge in climate change and its potential environmental and socio-economic impacts.
The IPCC is a scientific body under the auspices of the United Nations (U.N.). It reviews and assesses the most recent scientific, technical, and socio-economic climate change information produced worldwide. It does not conduct any research or monitor climate-related data or parameters.
Check back frequently with the website to view the outcomes of various Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and related events.
View the latest assessment reports on climate change.
Yale University's Program on Climate Change Communication conducts research on public climate knowledge, risk perceptions, decision making, and behavior so that educators and communicators have the knowledge and tools to more effectively engage their audiences.
The difference between weather and climate is a measure of time. Weather is the set of meteorological conditions at a particular time and place—wind, rain, snow, sunshine, temperature, and so on. By contrast, the term climate describes the overall long-term characteristics of the weather experienced at a particular location.
Image Source: NOAA
The projected changes in climate are likely to alter the health status of millions of people. Heat waves, floods, storms, fires, and droughts will increase the number of deaths, cases of disease, and injuries. Increased malnutrition, diarrheal disease, and malaria in some areas will jeopardize public health. Development goals will be threatened by longer-term damage to health systems from disasters.
The World Health Organization states:
The Compact of Mayors was launched at the 2014 U.N. Climate Summit and is the world's largest coalition of city leaders addressing climate change. The agreement set targets around greenhouse gas emissions reduction and urban resilience. It also established a reasonable time frame to conduct and disclose a greenhouse gas inventory and climate vulnerability assessment. The purpose is to make clear to the community of nations just how much cities and local communities are leading in the area of climate change. The same rigor and disclosures are expected from countries around the world.
We have now described some of the most commonly occurring health problems in disaster situations. We provided links to reference documents that provide more in-depth information on these issues. Complete the following exercise to determine how you can use this information in your work. If desired, download the Application Activity document to note your thoughts and responses.
In this section, we covered the following main points: