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close this bookEnvironmental Health Management after Natural Disasters (Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) / OrganizaciĆ³n Panamericana de la Salud (OPS), 1982, 74 p.)
close this folderPart I: The effects of disaster on environmental health
close this folderAn overview
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View the documentEffects of disasters on conditions and services

Effects of disasters on conditions and services

The sudden creation of areas of high population density, such as camps for displaced persons where there has been no planning for the sanitary accommodation of large numbers of people, is one of the most typical ways in which disasters affect environmental health conditions and services. Because of their generally inadequate facilities and services, establishing camps can result in secondary health emergencies; consequently, even more time and scarce resources will be needed than are required to address the original emergency situation.

Disruptions or overloading of water supply systems, excrete and liquid waste removal systems, and solid waste disposal systems also are likely consequences of natural disasters. When excrete and liquid waste disposal systems are disrupted, the probability of water-borne and food-borne diseases increases. Other water-related diseases and general nuisances are also more likely to affect disaster-stricken populations. Whenever access to normal water sources is hampered or cut off, it is critical that authorities make sufficient quantities for human consumption available to the populations in need.

Table 1. Consequences by Type of Disaster

Disasters

Consequences

Storms

Destructive winds

(Hurricane, cyclone, tornado)

Flooding


Heavy rains


Landslides


Power outages

Earthquakes

Destructive vibration


Power outages


Fires

Volcanic eruptions

Earthquake


Tsunamis


Fires


Volcanic debris

Tsunamis (Sea surges)

Floods


Power outages

As sanitation decreases with the disruption of solid waste disposal systems, the contamination of food and water supplies and the proliferation of vectors increase the risk of disease. The bothersome conditions that accompany breakdowns in solid waste disposal may contribute to the mental stress that disaster victims undergo. The disruption of solid waste disposal systems also can create fire hazards in densely populated areas.

The growth of populations of vectors of diseases such as malaria, yellow fever, tularemia, and typhus is a further common consequence of natural disasters, particularly in areas where such diseases otherwise are incidental. As was experienced in the aftermath of disaster in Haiti, the interruption of established vector control activities can cause a resurgence of such diseases.

Table 2. Matrix of Effects of Natural Disaster on Environmental Health Services

Service

Most Common Effects on Environmental Health

Earth-quake

Hurricane/Tornado

Flood

Tsunamis

Water supply and waste water disposal

Damage to civil engineering structures

·

·

·

˜


Broken mains

·

O

O

˜


Power outages

·

·

O

O


Contamination (biological or chemical)

O

·

·

·


Transportation failure

·

·

·

O


Personnel shortages

·

O

O

˜


System overloading (due to shifts in population)

O

·

·

˜


Equipment, parts, & supply shortages

·

·

·

O

Solid waste handling

Damage to civil engineering structures

·

O

O

˜


Transportation failures

·

·

·

O


Equipment shortages

·

·

·

O


Personnel shortages

·

·

·

˜


Water, soil, and air pollution

·

·

·

˜

Food handling

Damage to food preparation facilities

·

·

O

˜


Transportation failure

·

·

·

O


Power outages

·

·

O

O


Flooding of facilities

˜

·

·

·


Contamination/degradation of relief supplies

O

·

·

O

Vector control

Proliferation of vector breeding sites

·

·

·

·


Increase in human-vector contacts

·

·

·

O


Disruption of vector-borne disease control programs

·

·

·

·

Home sanitation

Destruction or damage to structures

·

·

·

·


Contamination of water and food

O

O

·

O


Disruption of power, heat fuel water supply waste disposal services

·

·

·

O


Overcrowding

˜

˜

˜

˜

· Severe possible effect
O Less severe possible effect
˜ Least or no possible effect

Finally, decreased standards of general housing sanitation and personal hygiene are among the most common effects of disaster upon environmental health conditions and services. When displaced persons move into areas in which physical structures have been damaged by the disaster, overcrowding often causes housing sanitation to decline. The lack of proper clothing, water, soap, detergent and basic cleaning and washing facilities makes it difficult to maintain usual standards of personal hygiene; as a result, there are increases in diarrhea! disease, vector-borne diseases like typhus, and conditions like scabies in areas where they were already prevalent before the disaster.