Environmental Health and Disasters: Environmental perspectives


By: Theophilus Franklyn, Environmental Health Officer

Disasters happen every day, whether man-made or natural. There are always phenomena in our existence. Disaster has made us aware of our existence on earth, such as the recent Category 5 hurricane Dorian, which has destroyed the Bahamas and the Abacos Island. The disaster  killed many, more people who are still missing, and efforts from recuse and humanitarians worldwide to help recovery on these islands.

Disasters are defined as events that occur when significant numbers of people are exposed to hazards which they are vulnerable, with resulting injury and loss of life, often combined with damage to property and livelihoods, while environmental health is concerned with the mitigation or controlling those external factors that can affect human health. Health as defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) is the state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely an absence of disease.

This article will look at how disaster affects aspect environmental health and mitigation measures to assist after a disaster has passed.

Firstly, disaster can affect the water systems of a country by destroying pipes, dams, reservoirs just to name a few, rendering the system to be contaminated with dirty, unclean water for human consumption. In natural disasters such as hurricanes and storms, water destroys roads that leads to other communities. This can make it hard for other villagers to get clean water. Water is important for human health.

In addition, solid and liquid waste management is another environmental health issue that can be affected. Solid waste such as garbage and litter can affect the community with the pollution of waterways, and liquid waste can contaminate the water bodies. This gives rise to many waterborne diseases such as cholera typhoid, etc. which in turn cause more illness and other disasters within the community.

Thirdly, food safety is another important aspect of environmental health that is of major concern in disasters. Food safety whether it may arise from spoiled food, uncooked proper food, and dead animals used as food. Due to the impact of food for human consumption, food safety issues can cause salmonella and other foodborne diseases.

To mitigate these incidents from occurring in a disaster, certain precautions must be taken from both an individual and a community standpoint.

Water safety can be mitigated by using chlorinated tablets to sterilized drinking water, as sterilization is important after storms and natural or man- made disasters. However, sterilization for man-made disaster depends on the type of disaster. Water is very important to human health for drinking, washing clothes, bathing, cooking, etc. Boiling water after storms such as earthquakes is also important to prevent the spread of bacteria and other microbes. However, boiling only kills 99.9 % of bacteria. It is also recommended that using (1) one pint of bleach to (1) one gallon of water for consumption.

Food safety plays an important role after and before disasters. One such method is the proper storage of food supplies to prevent contamination and harborage of pests. Proper storage should include storing items in tightly sealed containers from water and other hazards. Sealing helps prevent spoilage which can result in the multiplication of microbes from entering food. Another practice is desisting from killing or consuming animals such as livestock animals such as pigs, goats etc that has died from drowning due to the disaster. This can pose many health issues to the population at risk. Also, pest control is very important after disasters as pests transmit many diseases from contact to both food and humans such as zoonotic diseases such as leptospirosis, malaria, dengue fever just to name a few. Disaster can trigger new and emerging diseases like chikungunya, Zika and so on.

Finally, the impact of solid and liquid waste management. These are another important aspect of environmental health management that needs to be put in place. Solid waste such as garbage and litter pose tremendous health issues as waste pollute our waterways, destroy our food, and create pest management issues. To prevent these there need to be proper storages, separation, and disposal of garbage in disasters. The need for waste separation of domestic, commercial, and medical waste is important to avoid contact with human population.

Additionally, liquid waste such as human fecal waste can transmit many other pathogens, parasites, and helminths to name a few.  When these pathogens get into contact with water bodies can transmit many oral-fecal Contaminants. Liquid waste needs to be placed and disposed of properly, effectively, and efficiently to prevent contamination to the environment that has already been contaminated during the passage and post-disaster period. There should be enough portable toilets away from living areas, including pit latrines that has been destroyed. These liquid waste facilities should be filled up to prevent contamination and seepage into waterways and water bodies.

In conclusion, disasters that are unexpected can present many hazards on the human population which can cause loss of lives and livelihood. This can cause harm to human health and the environment. Disasters can cause many problems apart from water, food safety, and liquid and solid waste management. There also needs to be measures to prevent further outbreak of disease and loss of lives during and after a natural and man-made disaster. So please take the early warning seriously and protect our natural environment in all cases.

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