Natural Disasters

Lane K, Charles-Guzman K, Wheeler K, Abid Z, Graber N, Matte T. Health Effects of Coastal Storms and Flooding in Urban Areas: A Review and Vulnerability Assessment . Journal of Environmental and Public Health [Internet]. 2013. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Coastal storms can take a devastating toll on the public's health. Urban areas like New York City (NYC) may be particularly at risk, given their dense population, reliance on transportation, energy infrastructure that is vulnerable to flood damage, and high-rise residential housing, which may be hard-hit by power and utility outages. Climate change will exacerbate these risks in the coming decades. Sea levels are rising due to global warming, which will intensify storm surge. These projections make preparing for the health impacts of storms even more important. We conducted a broad review of the health impacts of US coastal storms to inform climate adaptation planning efforts, with a focus on outcomes relevant to NYC and urban coastal areas, and incorporated some lessons learned from recent experience with Superstorm Sandy. Based on the literature, indicators of health vulnerability were selected and mapped within NYC neighborhoods. Preparing for the broad range of anticipated effects of coastal storms and floods may help reduce the public health burden from these events.

Hikichi H, Sawada Y, Tsuboya T, Aida J, Kondo K, Koyama S, Kawachi I. Residential relocation and change in social capital: A natural experiment from the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. Science Advances [Internet]. 2017;3 (7). Publisher's VersionAbstract

Social connections in the community (“social capital”) represent an important source of resilience in the aftermath of major disasters. However, little is known about how residential relocation due to housing destruction affects survivors’ social capital. We examined changes in social capital among survivors of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. People who lost their homes were resettled to new locations by two primary means: (i) group relocation to public temporary trailer housing or (ii) individual relocation, in which victims moved into government-provided housing by lottery or arranged for their own accommodation (market rental housing or private purchase/new construction). The baseline for our natural experiment was established 7 months before the 11 March 2011 disaster, when we conducted a survey of older community-dwelling adults who lived 80-km west of the earthquake epicenter. Approximately 2.5 years after the disaster, the follow-up survey gathered information about personal experiences of disaster as well as health status and social capital. Among 3421 people in our study, 79 people moved via group relocation to public temporary trailer housing, whereas 96 people moved on their own. The individual fixed-effects model showed that group relocation was associated with improved informal socializing and social participation (β coefficient = 0.053, 95% confidence interval: 0.011 to 0.095). In contrast, individual relocation was associated with declining informal socializing and social participation (β coefficient = −0.039, 95% confidence interval: −0.074 to −0.003). Group relocation, as compared to individual relocation, appeared to preserve social participation and informal socializing in the community.

Bodmer R, Mayor P, Antunez M, Chota K, Fang T, Puertas P, Pittet M, Kirkland M, Walkey M, Rios C, et al. Major shifts in amazon wildlife populations from recent climatic intensification. Conservation Biology [Internet]. 2017. Publisher's VersionAbstract

In the western Amazon basin, recent intensification of river level cycles has increased flooding during the wet seasons and decreased precipitation during the dry season. Greater than normal floods occurred in 2009 and in all years from 2011–2015 during high water seasons, and a drought occurred during the 2010 low water season. During these years, we surveyed populations of terrestrial, arboreal and aquatic wildlife in a seasonally flooded Amazonian forest to study the consequences of intensification of climatic fluctuations to wildlife populations and in turn resource use by traditional people. Intensive floods and droughts have recently resulted in shifts in fish and terrestrial mammal populations in flooded forests, a major landscape in western Amazonia that make up 99,780 km2 of the Loreto region in Peru. The intensive floods caused terrestrial mammal populations to decrease by 95% with ungulates, terrestrial rodents and terrestrial edentates having increased mortality because they were forced onto small patches of land during peak flood pulses, and drowning during the historically high floods of 2012 and 2015. In contrast, fish increased and benefited from longer access to inundated forests, resulting in healthy populations of waterfowl, dolphins, otters and caimans. Arboreal species, including, macaws, game birds, primates, felids and other arboreal mammals had stable populations and were not affected directly by high floods. The drought of 2010 had the opposite consequences with decreases in fish, waterfowl and dolphin populations, and stable populations of terrestrial and arboreal species. Ungulates and large rodents are important wildmeat species for local people and their dramatic decline has shifted resource use of people living in the flooded forests with less reliance on hunting and greater use of fish.

Galvani AP, Bauch CT, Anand M, Singer BH, Levin SA. Human–environment interactions in population and ecosystem health. PNAS [Internet]. 2016;113 (51) :14502–14506. Publisher's VersionAbstract

As the global human population continues to grow, so too does our impact on the environment. The ingenuity with which our species has harnessed natural resources to fulfill our needs is dazzling. Even as we tighten our grip on the environment, however, the escalating extent of anthropogenic actions destabilizes long-standing ecological balances (12). The dangers of mining, refining, and fossil fuel consumption now extend beyond occupational or proximate risks to global climate change (3). Among a plethora of environmental problems, extreme climate events are intensifying (45). Storms, droughts, and floods cause direct destruction, but also have pervasive repercussions on food security, infectious disease transmission, and economic stability that take their toll for many years. For example, within weeks of the catastrophic wind and flood damage from the 2016 Hurricane Matthew in Haiti, there was a dramatic surge in cholera, among other devastating repercussions (67). In a world where 1% of the population possesses 50% of the wealth (8), those worst affected by extreme climatic events and the aftermath are also the least able to rebound.