Health Effects of Natural Disasters

Health effects of natural disasters occur over stages, beginning with the immediate impact of the event. Another impact of CHEs are individuals who are displaced. Displaced persons face many risks to their health and well-being not only during the event, but also after returning or resettling. After reading this week’s chapters and reviewing the PowerPoints and websites provided, please respond to the following (700-900 words, citation and reference in APA format):

  • At least one other valid source explain the role of global public health, what resources are available for countries who do not have the necessary material or food to cope with the health impacts of the CHE(s).
  • What are the primary goals of humanitarian response to disasters?
  • Describe an assessment and surveillance necessary during emergency phase of the disaster.


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Chapter Sixteen

Natural Disasters and Complex Humanitarian Emergencies

Learning Objectives

Describe several types of disasters that affect human health

Discuss the health effects of natural disasters and complex humanitarian emergencies

Review how those health impacts vary by age, sex, location, and type of disaster

Describe key measures that can be taken to mitigate the health impacts of natural disasters and complex humanitarian emergencies

The Importance of Natural Disasters and Complex Emergencies to Global Health

They lead to increased death, illness, and disability

Large economic impacts

Measures can be taken to reduce costs of disaster and conflict

Key Terms

Disaster: “any occurrence that causes damage, ecological destruction, loss of human lives, or deterioration of health and health services on a scale sufficient to warrant an extraordinary response from outside the affected community area”

Can be rapid (e.g., earthquake) or slow-onset (e.g., drought)

Key Terms

Complex humanitarian emergency: “complex, multi-party, intra-state conflict resulting in a humanitarian disaster which might constitute multi-dimensional risks or threats to regional and international security”

Example, Liberia: Civil war from 1990–2004 led to almost 500,000 IDP and more than 125,000 refugees in Guinea alone


Key Terms

Refugee: “a person who is outside his or her country of nationality or habitual residence; has a well-founded fear of persecution because of his or her race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion; and is unable or unwilling to avail him- or herself of the protection of that country, or return there for fear of persecution”

Refugees are accorded certain rights by international law

Key Terms

Internally displaced people (IDPs): people who are forced to flee or migrate and leave their homes during a disaster or complex humanitarian emergency but stay in the country in which they were living

Legal definition not well defined

No agency or organization responsible for IDPs

Key Terms

Crude mortality rate: the proportion of people who die from a population at risk over a specified period of time

Expressed per 10,000 population, per day

Key Terms

Attack rate: proportion of an exposed population at risk who become infected or develop clinical illness during a defined period of time

Case fatality rate: number of deaths from a specific disease in a given period, per 100 episodes of the disease in that same period


The Characteristics of Natural Disasters

Includes droughts, hurricanes, typhoons, cyclones, heavy rains, tsunamis, earthquakes, and volcanoes

Number of natural disasters are increasing, affecting larger numbers of people, causing more economic losses, but causing proportionally fewer deaths

90% of the deaths from these disasters occur in low- and middle-income countries

Cause damage to health systems and other infrastructure

The Characteristics of Complex Emergencies

Often go on for long periods of time

Sometimes groups that are fighting will not allow humanitarian assistance to be provided

Combatants often target civilians

Systematic abuse of human rights

Food shortages

Breakdown of publicly supported health system

Unhealthy living circumstances in refugee camps

The Health Burden of Natural Disasters

Direct and indirect effects depend on type of disaster

2015: 22,765 deaths and 110.3 million victims globally

2016: 8,733 people deaths and 564 million people were displaced worldwide

Some effects are short-term such as death; others are long-lasting, such as mental health problems

Very old, very young, and very sick are most vulnerable

The Health Burden of Natural Disasters

More than 100,000 people are thought to have died as a result of the earthquake in Haiti in 2010

© Claudiad/E+/Getty Images.

The Health Effects of Complex Humanitarian Emergencies

Large and underestimated because of difficulties in collecting data

Between 320,000 and 420,000 people killed each year as a direct result of CHEs

Malnutrition, lack of safe water, food shortages, and breakdown of health services can lead to illness, disability, and death

The Health Effects of Complex Humanitarian Emergencies

Causes of Death in CHEs

In the early stages, most deaths occur from diarrheal diseases, respiratory infections, measles, or malaria

Populations affected are generally poor and have poor nutritional status

The Health Effects of Complex Humanitarian Emergencies

Violence Against Women

Security conditions put women at considerable risk of sexual violence

Rape is used as a weapon of war

Economic distress and chaos may force women to trade sex for food or money

The Health Effects of Complex Humanitarian Emergencies

Mental Health

Social and psychological shocks due to changes in way of living, loss of livelihoods, damaged social networks, and physical and mental harm

The Health Effects of Complex Humanitarian Emergencies

Mental Health

Studies have found that affected children and adults suffer from high rates of depression and PTSD

For example, prevalence of PTSD is about 37% among Cambodian refugees versus about 1% in the U.S.

Important to help people rebuild their lives and social networks as quickly as possible


Addressing the Health Effects of Natural Disasters

Assess the health situation immediately

Address needs of immediate trauma cases

Help other injured people who are in need of early care and treatment

Establish continuous disease surveillance

Provide food, water, and shelter

Addressing the Health Effects of Natural Disasters

To be helpful, external assistance will have to:

Include all of the external partners

Be based on a cooperative relationship among the partners

Have partners working in ways that are complementary to each other

Be evidence-based and transparent

Involve the affected communities





Addressing the Health Effects of Natural Disasters

Disaster preparedness plans can be formed to:

Identify vulnerabilities

Develop scenarios of what might happen and the likelihood

Outline the role that different actors will play in the event of an emergency

Train first responders and managers to deal with such emergencies


Addressing the Health Effects of Complex Humanitarian Emergencies

Assessment and Surveillance

Carry out assessment of displaced population

Establish a system for disease surveillance

Check weight for height of all under-5 children

Assess the daily crude mortality rate

Daily rate twice the baseline rate signifies a public health emergency

Addressing the Health Effects of Complex Humanitarian Emergencies

A Safe and Healthy Environment

Maintain environmental and personal hygiene

Adequate clean water

Recommended: 15 L per person per day

Adequate number of toilets, segregated by sex

Recommended: 1 toilet per 20 people

Provide effective and culturally appropriate shelter

Addressing the Health Effects of Complex Humanitarian Emergencies


Provide at least 2,100 kilocalories of energy per day for adults

Ensure female-headed households and children get their rations

Give Vitamin A given to all children

Provide urgent nutrition supplementation to severely malnourished children

Addressing Health Effects of Complex Humanitarian Emergencies

Disease Control

Handle injuries and trauma first

Vaccinate all children aged 6 months to 15 years old for measles

Properly manage diarrhea and malaria

Provide health education and promote hygiene

Provide minimum package of care for pregnant women

Attend to urgent psychiatric conditions

Addressing Health Effects of Complex Humanitarian Emergencies

Coordination of International Emergency Responses

Office of Humanitarian Affairs – a UN body responsible for strengthening the coordination of UN responses to humanitarian emergencies

NGOs have also created common standards and guiding principles for humanitarian action

Sphere Project


Future Challenges

How to reduce negative health impact

Need to further develop and use standards and protocols for responses to disasters among all actors

Need to respond with the most cost-effective approaches

Main Messages

Natural disasters, such as droughts, famines, hurricanes, typhoons, cyclones, and heavy rains, have important health impacts

More than 90% of deaths from natural disasters occur in low- and middle-income countries

Some effects are short-term, such as death; other effects are long-term, such as mental health impacts

Main Messages

CHEs have direct and indirect impacts on health

Countries at risk can take a number of measures to mitigate vulnerability to damage from natural disasters, including:

Building seawalls and levees

Requiring earthquake-proofing

Strengthen water supply infrastructures

Main Messages

Health during CHEs need to be assessed quickly and continuously

Early attention to environment, shelter, water, and food when dealing with displaced peoples

Particular attention must be paid to malnutrition, pneumonia, and malaria

Main Messages

There has been important progress in coordination and standardization of measures to address CHEs and natural disasters

There are still gaps in preparation and training in response agencies

There has been inadequate attention to cost-effectiveness of interventions and information about the lessons of CHE and natural disaster response

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