Natural disasters are often accompanied by copious devastation at an unprecedented level. But natural catastrophes are not limited to causing wreckage to the property and business; they can immensely impact public health.
When a massive earthquake hit Haiti in 2010, the locals experienced an unheard-of disease. The health emergency was on top of the devastations, in which more than 230,000 people died, and 1.5 million were displaced.
Understanding the health issues associated with natural disasters is important for the respondents to prepare for second-wave recovery efforts. While it is easier to cite the immediate causalities, the impacts are often far-reaching, profound, detrimental, and long-lasting. Critical infrastructure is hurt, people lose their houses and jobs, and their lives are completely topsy-turvy. Such a chaotic and disoriented situation is ripe for public health problems to plague society.
Mental health issues related to natural disasters
The impact of natural disasters is not limited to physical health; mental health and well-being experience a hit too. Natural disasters take a toll on the mental health of the people experiencing the disasters directly and those who are part of relief efforts. Witnessing death and suffering can cause trauma creating emotional and psychological risks. Disaster relief workers are often more susceptible to posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Other issues mentioned by the literature include anxiety, depression, nightmares, and somatic complaints. Therefore, the disaster management personnel needs to know how to manage their emotions, preventing them from interfering with their work.
Managing disasters while encompassing public health issues
Disaster management degrees prepare people to detect and combat the public health issues prevalent in the affected area. More working public health professionals are encouraged to enroll in an online masters degree in disaster management, develop plans and policies, and focus on developing resilience in communities.
The psychological impacts of a natural disaster can put society on the back foot and derail its development efforts. An approach to disaster management that encompasses environment and public health issues is holistic and can build truly resilient communities.
Immediate health impacts of a natural disaster
The immediate effect of a natural disaster depends on the type of disaster. There are both short-term and long-term losses from natural disasters; all have potentially damaging impacts on the lives of people and communities. There can be injuries, death, and disability. The management starts to get calls for extraordinary demands of shortage of food, medicine, and resources that are never enough to meet the immediate health needs. In most cases, the resources are already exhausted by the emergency response. In the short term, diarrheal diseases, respiratory illnesses, dermatitis, and other infectious diseases could occur.
With time, the transmission of vector-borne diseases may start due to rainfall. For instance, clogged water can lead to an explosive rise in mosquitoes.
Long term health impacts of a natural disaster
By most parts, the healthcare industry bears the long-term health effects of natural disasters. Indirect losses and direct damage make up the aggregate cost of natural calamities. Direct losses include loss of beds, equipment, hospital buildings, and damage to the supplies such as tools and health services such as ambulances.
Long-term health burden also includes interruption in control and spread of infectious diseases, the loss of medical care, and interruption in health services. For a long time after the natural disaster, help is often requested from other parts of the country and the world to meet the needs of a devastated population.
A common perception is that the damage to the healthcare infrastructure is repaired promptly, but the reality is quite the opposite. The infrastructure repair in healthcare takes place at a much slower pace than in any other service sector.
Different natural disasters lead to desperate health issues. Here is a summary.
The severity of this disaster can cause injuries. Even if most of them are not life-threatening, they still need immediate medical attention. But in most cases, medical facilities are either damaged or are unprepared to cater to such a large number of people. Therefore, many national and international organizations set up medical camps to treat the ill and help the displaced population with food and medicines.
During the earthquake relief, authorities have the job of providing immediate relief, rehabilitating health facilities, and strengthening communication channels. Injuries that go untreated for an extended time can take an ugly shape leading to issues like permanent disabilities, chronic pains, and mental health issues.
These catastrophic tidal waves can damage whatever comes in their way. These waves are so powerful that they can travel hundreds of kilometers per hour. In the case of Tsunamis, the number of deaths far exceed those that survive such an event.
The majority of deaths are related to drowning. Injuries include broken limbs and head injuries from the physical impact of being washed into debris, trees, and buildings. The rehabilitation is slow, and there are more chances of spreading diseases, including typhoid fever, cholera, chest infections, diarrhea, dengue fever, etc.
A volcanic eruption causes ash falls, the spread of lethal gases, and lava flow. Falling ash can affect transportation and contaminate water bodies. Volcanic eruptions are often preceded by volcanic activity, which allows for scientific motioning, preparation, and relocation.
Historically, most casualties resulting from a volcanic eruption have occurred due to pyroclastic explosions. The gases released from the volcano can irritate the eyes and aggravate chronic lung conditions. The biggest threat of such an event is the risk of pyroclastic flows where rocks fall from the height at high speed.
Climate-related calamities include seasonal floods, typhoons, and hurricanes. Floods increase the risk of diarrhea and related diseases, skin conditions, and respiratory ailments. Sea surges and tsunamis often lead to saline contamination. Flooding also leads to loss of crops and food shortage. Hence the risk of malnutrition increases many folds. Improper supply of food further exacerbates the health problems and delays recovery.
Natural disasters and health issues cannot be kept apart. All-natural disasters signal a health and survival emergency, and in any situation, healthcare has to face the brunt of it even in the long run. But not all natural disasters bring the same issues and medical emergencies. Some increase the risk of diarrhea and water-borne diseases, and others cause more death and destruction.