An outbreak of Communicable Diseases
The risks and effects associated with flooding are immense. Flooding can impact environmental health negatively by causing the outbreak of communicable diseases. Floods that can be due to heavy rainfall, tsunami, and hurricanes have the potential to accelerate the infection and transmission of waterborne diseases and vector-borne diseases.
Floods are associated with the risk of infections of waterborne diseases such as cholera, typhoid, diarrhea, and hepatitis (Cisse, 2019). This situation happens when floodwater containing bacteria, viruses, and parasites contaminates clean water. Drinking contaminated water can be potentially harmful as it will lead to the infection of waterborne diseases. Besides drinking contaminated water, the infection can also be high through direct contact with polluted water. This can happen through wound infections, dermatitis, ear and nose infections. A good example of a flooding disaster that led to a waterborne disease outbreak can be traced back to 1980, when floods in Sudan led to Diarrhea (World Health Organization, 2015). In addition, floods in West Bengal resulted in the outbreak of cholera.
Normally, trends in reproduction, behavior, and population of arthropods that lead to vector-borne diseases are greatly influenced by precipitation and water. Therefore, a flood disaster is an enabler in the existence and expansion of this ecosystem. It leads to stagnant water, which is a perfect breeding zone for some arthropods such as mosquitoes. This situation can be dire as it exposes the resident population and rescue and emergency workers to infections and diseases like malaria.
Another impact of natural disasters on environmental health is drowning. Floods caused due to heavy rainfall, a tsunami, or a hurricane can severely impact environmental health, as it causes drowning. According to research, it is established that the leading cause of death during a tsunami disaster is drowning (Doocy et al., 2013). Under such circumstances, the females, children, and the elderly are at the highest risk of drowning
Loss of Lives
The occurrence of natural disasters has been counterproductive to humans. Disasters have led to a countless loss of lives in so many ways. First, the drowning mentioned above is one of the many causes of death attributed to natural disasters. A combination of many natural disasters is bound to cause flooding, which results in drowning. A tsunami is one of such natural disasters that leads to floods. A tsunami is a wave that begins spreading from the sea due to an earthquake, a landslide, or a volcanic eruption. As it approaches the land, it causes the sea level to rise, creating a surge of water to the land. If the tsunami is strong enough, it pours huge volumes of water from the sea into the land leading to floods that cause downing. Heavy downpour is another disaster leading to flooding. In addition, melting snow and hurricanes are other natural disasters that cause floods, leading to the loss of lives.
Earthquakes are, on the other hand, a natural disaster that causes the deaths of people. Many of these deaths are due to the collapse of buildings and structures that are sheltering people. For instance, in 2008, a 7.9 magnitude earthquake hit Sichuan province in China, leading to the loss of over 87,000 people (Xu & Lu, 2012). Among the casualties were thousands of children who died due to poorly constructed school structures. Earthquakes are also natural disasters that trigger tsunamis that also lead to the loss of lives. Apart from leading to the collapse of fragile buildings and structures as well as triggering tsunamis, earthquakes can also kill people through landslides. The violent shaking of the earth caused by earthquakes triggers landslides and mudslides, especially in soaked land. They equally trigger stones and debris, causing them to fall. The mudslides and moving stones usually hit people, killing them instantly. In 1970, Peru witnessed one of the deadliest earthquake-triggered mudslides. An earthquake under the Pacific Ocean resulted in violent shaking that loosened rocks and ice on Mount Huascaran. The result was a gigantic landslide that came down, rolling at high speed, wiping out the village of Yungay, where it killed thousands of people (Mergili et al., 2018). Only a few survived.
Infrastructure is critical in environmental health. It has a huge potential in improving the health outcomes of people as well as saving people from needless loss of lives. Its destruction, therefore, presents the greatest threat to humanity in so many ways. Infrastructure can consist of transportation facilities which include roads, railways, airports, and ports. It also consists of urban housing, residential structures, and healthcare facilities such as hospitals. In addition to that, infrastructure can also include piping that facilitates the transportations of water, gas, and oil, and it also includes electricity facilities such as power lines. The occurrence of natural disasters has far-reaching impacts on such infrastructure, compromising to a greater extent the environmental health that ensures the safety and wellness of the human race.
In understanding the impacts natural disasters have on environmental health, it is important to first understand how various natural disasters interfere with or damage infrastructure. Violent earth movements caused by tremors and earthquakes can cut critical infrastructure by damaging roads, power lines, piping systems, and housing structures like they happened in New Zealand (Quigley et al., 2010). By damaging these critical infrastructures, there will be interference in the transportation of people and other lifesaving tools through roads and railways. There will also be power shortages and shortage of water, oil, and gas supply as a result of pipeline damages. Volcanic eruptions have similar effects on infrastructure. The magma flow and sedimentary rocks emanating from the vent of an erupting volcano can be detrimental to infrastructure. It can violently hit critical infrastructure, including buildings damaging them, and the magma flow can equally block roads, bring down electricity poles and electricity pylons, and cut off pipelines. Tornadoes and hurricanes can lead to infrastructural damages in various ways, including cutting off roads, bridges, power lines, and communication lines (Oh & Hastak, 2008). Alongside tsunamis, they can cause flooding that blocks and damages roads.
These infrastructures are critical for environmental health. Roads, railways, and airlines facilitate the transportation of sick people, and when they get damaged, the whole transportation process is compromised, leading to succumbing. These infrastructures equally help in the transportation of foodstuffs and medical supplies that are crucial for human health. Damage to power lines can lead to power shortages, derailing urgent hospital operations and other sectors threatening human health. Equally, damage to pipelines affects the supply of clean water, exposing the human population to the risk of using contaminated water or a complete lack of water.
Increases Environmental Pollution
The occurrence of natural disasters is a bigger contributor to environmental pollution. A polluted environment is counterproductive to environmental and human health. World Health Organization estimates that every year about 7 million people succumb prematurely due to exposure to air pollution (World Health Organization, 2021). These large numbers of deaths indicate the severity that comes with natural disasters. Natural disasters cause environmental pollution in the following ways;
Most industries use pipelines to transport their highly harmful chemicals and other products to various destinations. They also store such products and processing equipment in storage tanks situated in various locations. The occurrence of natural disasters near these industries is life-threatening. It can damage the storage facilities, cut off the transportation infrastructure, exposing hazardous material to the environment. The recent case study happened in Japan’s Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant, where an earthquake disabled power supply and cooling of the Plant’s reactors (Mochizuki et al., 2013). The result of this situation was fatal. It led to hydrogen explosions and the release of radioactive contamination into the air and water.
Disasters Lead to Release of Hazardous Materials
The occurrence of natural disasters such as wildfires and volcanic eruptions are bound to release large quantities of harmful elements into the air and water, polluting them. For instance, a geothermal activity leads to the release of methyl mercury into the air. Methyl mercury is harmful to the body as it causes digestive, nervous, and immune systems complications (Maqbool et al., 2017). Polluted air and water create a life-threatening environment for people affecting their health and ultimately causing leading to deaths.
Persistent Drought Creates Sandstorms
Long droughts can affect the quality of air through the release of dust to it. Large clouds of dust released into the air during droughts can affect people’s health in various ways. Inhaling dust can affect the lungs by causing hypersensitivity pneumonitis. This allergic reaction to dust particles can lead to coughs and difficulties in breathing.
Increase in Greenhouse Effect
Natural disasters play a role in increasing the greenhouse effect. For instance, a natural disaster such as the volcanic eruption produces carbon dioxide gases, releasing them into the atmosphere (Shepardson et al., 2011). Carbon dioxide is one of the gases that add to the greenhouse effect. This gas, combined with other greenhouse gases, trap heat from the sun that would have escaped making the earth warmer. The increase in global warming can result in changes in weather and climate patterns. It can lead to extreme weather events and other natural disasters that can pose a great threat to the human race. An example is an increase in floods resulting from melting ice, an increase in droughts, and occurrences of heatwaves. Global warming can equally lead to aggravated precipitation extremes which cause wet regions to be wetter and dry regions to remain drier.
Occurrences of natural disasters create a huge negative impact on people, which takes a considerable time to reverse or recover. Trauma is one of the negative impacts natural disasters cause on people. It happens in various ways. First, trauma can affect people after experiencing the loss of their loved ones as a result of a natural disaster. The high number of people who lose their lives during tsunamis, droughts, earthquakes, wildfires, and floods directly affect their loved ones. Prolonged stress in these individuals causes trauma and post-traumatic disorder which may take time to heal (Javidi & Yadollahie, 2012). Secondly, a direct experience of a traumatic ordeal when a natural disaster happens can impact an individual by causing trauma. Therefore, natural disasters can facilitate psychological trauma affecting human health.
Displacement of People
A large number of people are displaced yearly after an occurrence of a natural disaster. The number of people displaced due to a natural disaster has doubled. In 2013, over 22 million people fled their homes as a result of hurricanes, earthquakes, and typhoons (Rajeev, 2016). But where do these large numbers of people end up? Most people displaced by natural calamities have nowhere to go. They mostly end up in refugee camps (Albadra et al., 2013). Due to the deplorable health conditions in most refugee camps, the risk of contracting diseases and other infections is high. Considering the overcrowding and the poor sanitation conditions prevailing in those camps, most of these displaced people’s health is compromised. They end up suffering from various diseases, cementing the view that natural disasters negatively impact environmental health.
The impacts caused by natural disasters are extensive. They are equally fatal as they compromise the safety, health, and wellbeing of people. The impact of these natural disasters can have a direct or indirect effect on people. The impacts include outbreaks of diseases, drowning caused by floods, the loss of lives, trauma, and damage to infrastructure. In addition, natural disasters can lead to environmental pollution where toxic gases and chemicals are released into the air and water. An increase in the greenhouse effect is another common impact of natural disasters, which happens when greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide are released into the atmosphere.
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