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6 Health Impacts of Natural Disasters

Most experts agree that the frequency and cost of natural disasters are on the rise worldwide.

In 2018 alone, the U.S. experienced 14 disaster events costing at least $1 billion each, including wildfires, winter storms, and drought.1 As climate change warms the planet, natural disasters will likely continue to strike with increasing severity and frequency.

While the immediate public health impacts of natural disasters are obvious, these events also spark a number of other longer-term problems. Here’s a closer look at some of those impacts.

6 Health Impacts of Natural Disasters

1. Injuries

In the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster, injuries are the first impacts that must be addressed. Community health workers may need to set up temporary triage areas to treat the wounded, depending on how severely local infrastructure has been affected. Earthquakes tend to result in the highest number of injuries, compared to other events such as tsunamis, floods, storms, or wildfires.2

2. Chronic Disease Emergencies

While some natural disasters have a high rate of injuries, most result in power outages and infrastructure damage that lead to trouble for patients suffering from chronic diseases. Those living with diabetes, kidney disease, lung disease, or other conditions requiring constant care will often be the first to suffer if healthcare services are interrupted.

3. Hygienic Impacts and the Spread of Disease

When a natural disaster destroys infrastructure such as roads, water pipes, and gas lines, additional potential health impacts emerge. Contaminated water and the lack of a functioning sewer system can result in the spread of disease. Sustained power outages can cause food shortages, lost medicine, and the inability to run healthcare facilities safely.

4. Food Shortages

One short-term consequence of natural disasters that can stretch into a long-term problem is the issue of food shortages. While the disaster itself might have interrupted supply logistics in the area, damage to farms and factories could also spark longer-lasting food shortages. This can lead to an increase in food prices, putting a financial burden on disadvantaged populations who may not be able to afford basic groceries.

5. Mental Health Problems

The trauma of experiencing a natural disaster can cause widespread mental health problems. Immediate mental impacts include shock and grief, but as victims suffer the loss of homes, businesses, and loved ones, they often face longer-term problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety. In the long term, natural disasters may also drive an increase in alcohol and drug abuse.

6. Damage to Healthcare Infrastructure

Anything from an extended power outage to physical damage at hospitals and other healthcare facilities can lead to a public health crisis for some citizens. Medicines are lost, equipment is damaged or destroyed, and hospital facilities are unable to treat patients adequately. Many people might also flee the area following a disaster, leaving healthcare facilities short-staffed. And with fewer residents, sometimes there is less impetus to rebuild broken healthcare infrastructure.

As a community health worker, you can learn to take on the new challenges faced by public health professionals by pursuing a Master of Public Health online. Accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH), Walden University’s Master of Public Health (MPH) program provides a solid foundation in public health knowledge along with a global perspective. You’ll interact with other students from around the world, explore case studies on current public health issues, and gain impactful experience in the field. And, you can complete your coursework when it’s convenient for you, thanks to the flexibility of online learning.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree program online. Earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format without interrupting your career.

1Source: www.climate.gov/news-features/blogs/beyond-data/2018s-billion-dollar-disasters-context
2Source: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5972170/

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, www.hlcommission.org.

Note on Program Accreditation
The Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH) Board of Councilors acted at its September 6, 2019, meeting to accredit the Master of Public Health program at Walden University for a five-year term. Based on CEPH procedures and the documentation submitted, the program’s initial accreditation date will be recorded as February 3, 2018. CEPH is an independent agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education to accredit schools of public health and programs of public health. CEPH accreditation provides assurance that the program has been evaluated and has met accepted public health profession standards in practice, research, and service. For a copy of the final self-study document and/or final accreditation report, please contact the dean of the School of Health Sciences ([email protected])

Note on Certification
The National Board of Public Health Examiners (NBPHE) offers the Certified in Public Health (CPH) credential as a voluntary core credential for public health professionals. Individuals who have a bachelor’s degree and at least five subsequent years of public health work experience will be eligible to take the CPH exam. However, for individuals without these qualifications, a candidate must be an alumni of a school or program of public health accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH). Walden MPH’s program’s initial CEPH accreditation date was recorded as February 3, 2018.

Students should evaluate all requirements related to national credentialing agencies and exams for the state in which they intend to practice. Walden makes no representations or guarantee that completion of Walden coursework or programs will permit an individual to obtain national certification. For more information about the CPH credential, students should visit www.nbphe.org.

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