While a natural disaster can put the lives of those in the area in immediate danger, the long term affects of rising flood waters can have implications that both last for years, and reach across the miles. Anyone who has seen footage of a town impacted by flash flooding knows that the initial fear is that one will be washed away by the force of the water. Survivors of floods know that the struggle continues long after the initial disaster strikes.
Acquire more background knowledge on some of the dangers and diseases associated with flooding
The World Health Organization has monitored the risks associated with major flooding in places like Pakistan, Somalia, and Costa Rica. In areas where there is already a risk of diseases such as malaria, the stagnant water serves as a breeding ground for the mosquitos that spread the disease. When the death toll increases, a lack of trained professionals and even space needed to properly bury or cremate corpses results in contamination of those stagnant waters. While tetanus is not directly caused by flooding, traumatic injuries endured due to debris in the community or efforts to escape drowning could lead to life-threatening infections, and if the roads are destroyed due to the event, medical supplies to treat the Injuries may not get to those who need them. Gastrointestinal problems, fever, headaches, severe respiratory distress and symptoms of dehydration are complaints associated with exposure to contaminated water.
Read the flooding and communicable diseases fact sheet (2 pages) from The World Health Organization
Discuss (or write an brief essay about) how water-borne illnesses can be carried through drinking water, and vector-borne illnesses, such as malaria, may have a later onset. How can disaster management plans help to prevent both kinds of illness? Keep in mind that even when the water recedes, the next generation of insects are in place ready to spread infectious diseases. What role does awareness of how disease is spread and basic sanitation play in the management of a potential public health emergency?
Part 2: How can water make you sick?
Learn about secondary dangers associated with flooding-especially in a small town.
In some parts of the world, clean water is a resource that can’t be taken for granted. However, since flood waters can carry bacteria that can transmit diseases when people are left homeless due to the damage from flooding, communicable diseases may spread more rapidly as people find themselves sharing a small space with others (relatives, friends, a shelter) until it is safe to return to their dwelling.
During times of flood, other systems are impacted. Power lines could be downed by trees, for example. Without power, residents may find that they have to depend on outdoor grills to cook with propane, or rely on emergency generators that throw off carbon monoxide. Even car batteries that have been submerged in flood water present a danger. It isn’t only the water, it is everything that the flood water touches or that is in the environment due to the flood that has to be handled with care.
Have students read the fact sheet Carbon Monoxide Poisoning After a Disaster.
As a class, discuss three situations that could arise due to a disaster that would put people at a higher risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. What could be done to make each situation safer?
View two video reports on Newshour about flooding on two different continents.
In Southern Pakistan, victims of flooding are impacted by malaria, skin diseases, and upper respiratory infections. A lack of infrastructure to deliver medicines, medical care, and communication issues make it a difficult for appropriate treatment to get to the people that require it.
Training on how to prevent the spread of diseases through proper hygiene and the use of mosquito nets to offset malaria can save lives. Doctors stress that children who are already at-risk are most susceptible.
View this video from the Newshour.
In Memphis, flooding in low-lying areas made 5 counties eligible for disaster relief from the government. In anticipation of more flooding, The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers acted on plans to divert water away from vulnerable areas where more damage could have occurred. Water that remains for weeks, as winter snow melts and heavy rains just add to the problem.Some residents of these communities have similar safety concerns, such as bacteria and chemicals that are dangers, but unlike in Pakistan, poisonous survivors (snakes)' swim freely in the flood waters that remain, posing an additional threat.
View this video from the Newshour:
Think about the unique impact that condemning a home has on the real estate market, the profits of small business own who depend on local customers, and the lifestyle of the inhabitant, who may have to relocate a family or find new opportunities amongst the chaos.
In the United States, the government may condemn a home if it is not safe, or if inhabiting the house is likely to make the residents ill. There is also a concern that mold, debris, and chemicals that have been displaced by the rising waters can pose a threat. Official must weigh the benefits of condemning buildings with the negative impact closing down most of a town can have on the local economy. Similarly, condemning a home my mean sending many community members to one small space, where disease is more likely to spread. If a home is habitable after the waters have gone down, residents can take precautions to minimize the health risk: http://www.emergency.cdc.gov/disasters/pdf/wellsdisinfect.pdf
Share with students the story of how John A. Snow discovered the correlation between unsanitary practices around drinking water and how taking one bold step to stop it impacted to mortality rate in Soho, London.
History of water as a potential killer:
A famous English physician in the 1800s named John A. Snow is credited with making the connection between the (contaminated) drinking water and cholera. Though he died in 1858, before the germ theory was established in 1861, he kept a map of the neighborhood where there were over 600 deaths in Soho, London, and spoke to residents who knew the families of those who died. One thing these families had in common was that they all drew water from the (now infamous) Broad Street pump. In fact, he found that of those who died in homes near another pump, most crossed town to use the Broad Street pump, as well, due to their daily routines (the pump was closer to school, for example). While Snow had a difficult time proving his theory to the medical community, his act of rebellion was to cut off the handle to the pump. Some see this act, which diminished the mortality rate, immediately, as the founding of epidemiology (the study of disease). Geographers and public health activists have a shared interest in the story, because mapping and interviewing residents helped Dr. Snow to document and illustrate his hypothesis. Research showed how close the well was to a cesspit that had leaked fecal bacteria into the water. As cesspits overflowed in London homes, the contaminated waters were dumped into the Thames River-the source of water for the Broad Street pump.
For an interactive representation of what is nicknamed “The Ghost Map,” visit: http://www.theghostmap.com/
Discuss (or explore for homework) how the rapid growth in the population (to 2 million) in an already crowded city impacted the spread of cholera. In what ways could the British Industrial Revolution, including the use of refined coal, increase in the use of waterways to transport goods, and the development of steam-powered ships impacted the water in the Thames River, as well? Was it a coincidence that a boom in profits came at the same time as this apparent plague, but the doctor looking for answers had to use charts and maps to illustrate the extent of the issue, and expose the cause?
The impact of flooding includes immediate dangers due to trauma, longer term implications for health, such as diseases caused by bacteria, and far-reaching issues such as the effect that lack of access to medical care can have on a community (due to the lack of infrastructure, like roads, to the lack of resources, or due to economic downturn when places of employment are condemned.) Sometimes,the infrastructure is actually changes to address the issues. Discuss each of the following solutions to making areas of potential flooding into something that addresses another need, and plan to choose one (or invent one):
Turn flood zones into parks.
-The U.S. Government converted several areas where flooding is likely to reoccur and built parks there, so home owners would not be displaced.
-FEMA has physically moved entire homes to new sites so it won't flood I that home town soon.
Retrofit homes to flood-proof them
-Homes that are elevated a great deal are charming to see but functional
-The government has converted some frequently flooded areas into nature Preserves.
Create a proposal (or a poster with a presentation) for a community to teach them about the actions they can take, or that the government has taken, to mitigate the impact of disasters.
In the presentation, students should think about why these choices were made, and if they have other innovative ideas that might promote better health after the flood. Students should think about how many components of each plan depends on the strategies being in place years before the first raindrop falls.