SEATTLE — Mudslides and flooding in South America, most recently in Peru and Colombia, have caused a great deal of devastation. Health after a natural disaster is an important area to address to prevent the spread of diseases that can place a heavier burden on infrastructures and drive families further into poverty.
Recent storms in Peru this past March have led to extreme flooding, with a death toll nearing 100 and a quarter of a million citizens displaced. The changes in climate that have caused the severe storms in Peru are expected to similarly affect Colombia. A recent mudslide in Colombia left more than 250 dead, and hundreds more injured or homeless.
The current floods in Peru have left approximately 700,000 Peruvian citizens homeless. One of the major concerns after a natural disaster like this is the fixing of roads and bridges that have been damaged by the floods. The estimated cost of repair is more than a billion dollars. Additionally, it will take at least two years for repairs to be completed. Damaged and blocked roadways have a direct impact on health after a natural disaster. The damage to roadways makes it difficult to reach affected areas, hindering the efforts of relief workers and preventing injured or homeless citizens from accessing health services, drinking water, schools, and food supplies.
A rise in infectious diseases is another major health concern. Water supplies can be easily contaminated. Relocated individuals may not be familiar with the quality of the water sources and how to access sanitary water supplies. Flood and mudslides also lead to changes in the geography of the land. Changes in the soil can increase the exposure a population has to certain infectious organisms. The destruction and damage to facilities, increased number of displaced individuals, and lack of sanitation systems can lead to the contamination of safe water with excretions and bacteria, leading to an outbreak of diarrheal diseases.
Another reason for a rise in infectious disease is due to the inability to bury bodies immediately. To try and avoid a spread of diseases, the high death toll due to the recent mudslides in Colombia has prompted the government to begin a vaccination program in an attempt to curb any potential disease outbreaks.
Peru and Colombia are both expected to face more rain and potential floods and mudslides in the coming months. Both countries already face a high risk of infectious disease, particularly waterborne, and it will be crucial to effectively monitor any rises to prevent epidemics. Both countries estimate that around 25 percent of the population is below the poverty line. Poor health after a natural disaster and loss of access to basic services can increase the number of those in poverty if not properly addressed.
Health after a natural disaster is a major concern, with far-reaching effects that can lead to exacerbation of poverty rates and a lower quality of life for many citizens. Programs such as Colombia’s vaccination program as well as Peru’s plan to begin rebuilding bridges and roads immediately are positive actions that can help reduce poor health outcomes and promote successful disaster recovery efforts.
– Nicole Toomey