Disease after-shocks can kill more people than the disasters that they follow

Though natural disasters kill many people every year, their disease after-shocks, including many water-borne diseases, can kill more people than the disasters themselves, according to a US scientist.

Speaking at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in San Francisco, Dr. Stephen Guptill, a research scientist with the US Geological Survey (USGS), says that outbreaks of diseases such as cholera or typhoid, which are caused by contaminated water supplies, can be a direct result of the disaster, or from the relocation of a large number of people into areas with no viable supply of drinking water.

“In addition, the relocation of displaced persons into highly concentrated refuge camps often creates conditions that make the population highly susceptible to outbreaks of infectious diseases. If the camps are located in areas where diseases such as Rift Valley fever, hanta(check) virus, or hemorrhagic fever are endemic, large numbers of people may become ill,” said Guptill.

The answer, he says, lies in using remote sensing images taken from aircraft or space, enabling quick assessment of an area affected by a natural disaster. Combined with geospatial data, this information could provide disaster relief specialists with sufficient knowledge to find sites that minimise the risks of disease.

“Even a moderate amount of geographic awareness in natural disaster relief planning could help to prevent additional victims from disease aftershocks,” Guptill concluded.

Last week, edie reported on a new suitcase-sized water purifier which is to become part of a rapid-reaction force which could reach areas within hours of disasters taking place (see related story).

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