CDC: Drought is a Public Health Issue

Drought can affect air quality and increase the incidence of illness and disease, according to the agency. Currently, parts of California, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Nevada are experiencing extreme or exceptional drought.

CDC posted an article about the health implications of drought, saying those "are numerous and far reaching. Some drought-related health effects are experienced in the short-term and can be directly observed and measured. However, the slow rise or chronic nature of drought can result in longer term, indirect health implications that are not always easy to anticipate or monitor," the article points out.

Currently, parts of California, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Nevada are experiencing extreme or exceptional drought, which is a natural phenomenon in which rainfall is lower than average for an extended period of time, resulting in inadequate water supply.

"Cycles of drought have affected North America for the last 10,000 years. Droughts can last from a single season to many decades and can affect from a few hundred to millions of square miles," according to the CDC article, which said dried soil and compromised food and nutrition are two of the results. And drought's impact on regions can vary because of:

  • the structure and capacity of existing water systems
  • local governance of water use
  • economic development
  • the at-risk populations living within the affected area
  • other societal factors, such as the presence of local social networks

"Severe drought conditions can negatively affect air quality. During drought, there is an increased risk for wildfires and dust storms. Particulate matter suspended in the air from these events can irritate the bronchial passages and lungs. This can make chronic respiratory illnesses worse and increase the risk for respiratory infections like bronchitis and pneumonia," the article states. It lists these public health implications of drought:

  • compromised quantity and quality of drinking water
  • increased recreational risks
  • effects on air quality
  • diminished living conditions related to energy, air quality, and sanitation and hygiene
  • compromised food and nutrition
  • increased incidence of illness and disease
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