Drought Impacts on Public Health
Drought’s slow rise can result in both short- and long-term health consequences.
Human health implications of drought include:
- Compromised quantity and quality of drinking water
- Effects on air quality
- Diminished living conditions related to energy, air quality, and sanitation and hygiene
- Compromised food and nutrition
- Increased incidence of illness and disease, including anxiety, depression, or other adverse mental health outcomes
- Increased recreational risks.
Drought can affect the health of communities in different ways, depending on factors such as the structure and capacity of existing water systems, local governance of water use, economic development, the at-risk populations living within the affected area, and other societal elements, such as the presence of local social networks. Better understanding the linkages between drought events, related impacts, and consequences for human health can help public health agencies and emergency managers prepare for drought-associated health impacts and save lives.
Several resources are available to assess the public health needs in a community related to drought events. During California’s significant drought from 2012–2016, Mariposa and Tulare Counties, in cooperation with CDC, completed the first Community Assessment for Public Health Emergency Response (CASPER) reports on drought. The purpose of the CASPER reports was to assess the perceptions of the drought and of water use, learn how households coped with dry wells, identify ways households are conserving water, determine where and how households are seeking assistance, establish whether the drought caused any mental health effects or exacerbations of chronic diseases, and assess disaster communication issues. CASPER drought studies have also been completed in Oregon. Learn more.
In 2019, NIDIS helped to convene a National Drought and Public Health Summit to bring together a diverse set of local, state, federal, tribal, nonprofit, and academic stakeholders for a discussion around the linkages between droughts and human health. Participants discussed ways to properly prepare our nation’s public health agencies and organizations for the health hazards associated with drought, and identified how various partners and stakeholders can incorporate public health impacts into drought and climate tools. Regionally-focused drought and health workshops, along with a report iterating action items to further understand the relationship between drought and public health, were among the next steps agreed upon following the Summit.