Ecology And Environment

The Health Implications of Severe Drought

Colette Georgii's image for:
"The Health Implications of Severe Drought"
Image by: 

Severe drought can be the catalyst for the spread of infectious disease, famine, and increased stress causing behavioral dysfunction in both humans, animals and insects.

Severe drought impacts the life of living creatures in many ways that are still not completely understood by professionals nor documented by statistics, according to an advanced study by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) in their publication entitled, "When Every Drop Counts: Protecting Public Health during Drought Conditions - A Guide for Public Health Professionals."

However what is currently known regarding the effects of severe drought has been documented in this publication and professionals from many agencies around the world are working on solutions and further knowledge regarding the effects of drought. According to the CDC, droughts and intense precipitation, due to climate change and the natural cycle of water distribution, may become more severe as life progresses further into the 21st century.

Water, the essential ingredient to life

Water is an essential ingredient to life
. Without water humans, animals, and vegetation cannot survive. According to the CDC, "Water should be considered a scarce and valuable resource."  Most of earth's water is saltwater at 97 percent. The remaining drinkable fresh water is only three percent but most of that is locked in glaciers and ice.

Respiratory effects of severe drought

How does severe drought affect the health of human beings and animals alike? Severe drought caused by the lack of precipitation, which in turn with high temperatures causes wildfires to burn out of control causing soil to dry up and the air to become polluted with more particulate matter, can cause respiratory problems in humans with chronic conditions such as asthma. Poor air quality can also cause respiratory infections such as bacterial pneumonia.

Toxic chemicals in fish and shellfish

What about fish trying to survive in dried up lakes, ponds, and streams, or ponds, rivers, and streams where the water is lower than normal?

The livelihood of a community might rely on fishing as a main source of income or as a food staple. What happens to fish and humans when a severe drought has impacted this type of community?

Toxic chemicals increase in lower water levels. These toxic chemicals accumulate in the local fish in higher levels than normal. When humans and other animals eat the fish exposed to concentrated levels of these toxins they can be exposed to increased levels of toxins that can cause illness. Drought causes higher water temperatures. These higher water temperatures can affect the spread of bacterial, fungal, and parasitic diseases in fish and shellfish.


Livestock can also be adversely affected by severe drought. Livestock can become "malnourished, diseased, and die."


Crops are also affected negatively by severe drought, such as soybeans and corn. These are staple crops needed for both the feeding of livestock and humans. Hay fields normally foraged by livestock in their quest for food dry up, so how do livestock such as cows and pigs survive? Farmers might rely on irrigation and the recycling of water. But the recycling of water has its drawbacks such as being more susceptible to disease and pathogens such as salmonella and E. coli.

The price of food

When crops fail, the price of food rises, which impacts the ability of humans to buy nutritious foods, which can impact whole families in their ability to provide good meals for their children, causing malnutrition among humans.

Mental health

As farmers, horticulturists, gardeners, and other people are impacted by severe drought they may become despondent with mental conditions arising such as depression, anxiety, stress over financial conditions and food shortages. Drought can cause higher instances of suicide or suicidal behavior.

Mosquito-borne illness

Drought is also a cause of mosquito-borne illnesses such as West Nile Virus. The behavior of insects such as mosquitoes and ticks can also change with them looking for habitats that support their lifestyles. Mosquitoes may move closer to human areas where they can find dripping hoses or stagnant puddles causing the increased incidences of humans contracting mosquito-borne disease. Their may be increased contact of mosquitoes with birds giving way to diseases such as St. Louis encephalitis.


Severe drought can cause many health and health-related conditions in humans and wildlife. It is important to understand that water is a precious resource and essential to life. Drought is a natural phenomenon, but can be exacerbated by humans trying to control natural ecosystems. According to the CDC, "urban expansion and development without regard to existing water supply and water system capacity can trigger a human induced drought."

Drought-caused illness is an important consideration to be made aware of. From crops that fail to dying livestock, from famine and malnutrition to mental health problems such as suicide and depression, severe drought has made its impact on the livelihood of both humans and wildlife around the world. The Southwestern states of the US have suffered considerably with crop failure and the resultant health and economic after-effects. With climate change and its effect on the temperatures around the world, we may see more and more drought conditions causing famine, food shortages, economic failure, and greater incidences of drought-caused illness.

More about this author: Colette Georgii

From Around the Web

  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrow
  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrow
  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrow
  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrow
  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrow
  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrow
  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrow
  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrow
  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrow
  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrow