What Harvey Reminds Us About the Link Between Environmental & Personal Health
Hurricane Harvey has brought the summer to a heartbreaking close for the country. We are keeping the people of Houston, Texas and the Gulf Coast regions affected in mind as they recover from the hurricane’s staggering effects, and we continue to be inspired by the resilience of those communities as they work together to rebuild their neighborhoods.
This economic and emotional disaster is also a public health crisis. One of the most disheartening impacts of Harvey will be the long-term health consequences for the region, which will require all of us to rise to the challenges of providing quality care and support to those affected.
Even aside from the material damage preventing hospitals, clinics, and doctors from providing their usual level of service, the health needs of the region are already completely changing. In the short term, water sanitation crises caused by flooding will increase the spread of waterborne diseases. Communicable respiratory diseases will also rise with people in close quarters in shelters. Widespread infrastructure damage will limit access to medical care, which can be particularly threatening for people with chronic conditions.
Comparisons to Hurricane Katrina have helped many of us wrap our heads around the scale of this event. Just like with Katrina, many Harvey survivors are likely to experience P.T.S.D. Depression and elevated stress levels will also be significantly more common as people grapple with the trauma of losing property, family, friends, and overall stability.
So as we think about rebuilding Houston and nearby areas, we must also think about rebuilding these communities’ health—not just this year, but for many years to come.
Harvey is a devastating reminder that our health and the environment will always be related. When our surrounding environment is compromised, our health outcomes are also at risk. The more we invest in building environmentally-resilient communities, the more we are investing in our own health. And the more seriously all of us—employers included—take the recovery effort for Harvey survivors, the better chance we have at restoring physical and mental wellbeing for those affected.