According to the latest US Drought Monitor Map, almost three-quarters of the U.S. is at this moment in drought. Fires have already destroyed more than 1.8 million acres this year. Large parts of Utah, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana are considered in extreme fire danger. Drought, often caused by extremely high temperatures, is a fact of life. The problem is that we are not always well prepared to cope with it. All aspects of our lives are affected: economy, agriculture, environment and health, and the consequences are often longer than the drought itself.
Drought and health
When the amount of rainfall and other means of water supply are less than our water use, we have drought. It often results because of extreme heat for an extended period of time. Drought affects our health in some very direct ways, and some ways that are not so obvious.
According to the very informative and well researched publication When Every Drop Counts compiled by CDC, EPA, National Center for Environmental Health , American Water Works Association (AWWA), the U.S. Envi ronmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the main issues that link drought and health are:
Ã¢Å¾ ¤ compromised quality and quantity of potable water,
Ã¢Å¾ ¤ compromised food and nutrition,
Ã¢Å¾ ¤ diminished living conditions (as they pertain to energy, air quality, and sanitation and hygiene),
Ã¢Å¾ ¤ recreational risks,
Ã¢Å¾ ¤ mental and behavioral health,
Ã¢Å¾ ¤ vulnerable populations, and
Ã¢Å¾ ¤ increased disease incidence (for infectious, chronic, and vectorborne/zoonotic diseases).
What can we do?
While some communities are better prepared to deal with prolonged drought, others are not. Drought means running out of water; using water very frugally is the first measure. But, hydration during hot weather is crucial. Dehydration can severely affect health and can be deadly in small children.
- Lack of municipal water sometimes forces people to use untreated water, especially in rural areas, risking a number of health issues due to waterborne pathogens. It is crucial to ensure that drinking water, for people, livestock and pets, is clean.
- Drought also creates large amount of dust. Dust in agricultural areas is full of toxic chemicals used to fertilize soil or rid it of pests. People with asthma should stay indoors whenever possible.
- During extreme drought and heat, light meals rich in fruits and vegetables are recommended because they contain large amounts of water as well as minerals we lose when sweating.
- When drought and extreme heat affect energy supply, it is important to provide healthy, cool living conditions at home without air conditioners by providing air circulation and draft throughout the house. If you lose power for prolonged amount of time, be careful with food in the refrigerator. Spoiled or moldy food can cause severe stomach problems.
- Be careful when buying fish during drought, if it has been caught locally. Low levels of water in rivers, lakes and commercial fish farms can increase levels of pathogens and parasites that end up in the fish, and ultimately on your plate.
- Limit exercise, both for you and kids, to cooler times of the day to avoid heat stroke and make sure you rehydrate enough.