Climate Change–Related Water Disasters’ Impact on Population Health

Tener Goodwin Veenema, Clifton P. Thornton, Roberta Proffitt Lavin, Annah K. Bender, Stella Seal, Andrew Corley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Purpose: Rising global temperatures have resulted in an increased frequency and severity of cyclones, hurricanes, and flooding in many parts of the world. These climate change–related water disasters (CCRWDs) have a devastating impact on communities and the health of residents. Clinicians and policymakers require a substantive body of evidence on which to base planning, prevention, and disaster response to these events. The purpose of this study was to conduct a systematic review of the literature concerning the impact of CCRWDs on public health in order to identify factors in these events that are amenable to preparedness and mitigation. Ultimately, this evidence could be used by nurses to advocate for greater preparedness initiatives and inform national and international disaster policy. Design and Methods: A systematic literature review of publications identified through a comprehensive search of five relevant databases (PubMed, Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature [CINAHL], Embase, Scopus, and Web of Science) was conducted using a modified Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) approach in January 2017 to describe major themes and associated factors of the impact of CCRWDs on population health. Findings: Three major themes emerged: environmental disruption resulting in exposure to toxins, population susceptibility, and health systems infrastructure (failure to plan-prepare-mitigate, inadequate response, and lack of infrastructure). Direct health impact was characterized by four major categories: weather-related morbidity and mortality, waterborne diseases/water-related illness, vector-borne and zoonotic diseases, and psychiatric/mental health effects. Scope and duration of the event are factors that exacerbate the impact of CCRWDs. Discussion of specific factors amenable to mitigation was limited. Flooding as an event was overrepresented in this analysis (60%), and the majority of the research reviewed was conducted in high-income or upper middle-/high-income countries (62%), despite the fact that low-income countries bear a disproportionate share of the burden on morbidity and mortality from CCRWDs. Conclusions: Empirical evidence related to CCRWDs is predominately descriptive in nature, characterizing the cascade of climatic shifts leading to major environmental disruption and exposure to toxins, and their resultant morbidity and mortality. There is inadequate representation of research exploring potentially modifiable factors associated with CCRWDs and their impact on population health. This review lays the foundation for a wide array of further areas of analysis to explore the negative health impacts of CCRWDs and for nurses to take a leadership role in identifying and advocating for evidence-based policies to plan, prevent, or mitigate these effects. Clinical Relevance: Nurses comprise the largest global healthcare workforce and are in a position to advocate for disaster preparedness for CCRWDs, develop more robust environmental health policies, and work towards mitigating exposure to environmental toxins that may threaten human health.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)625-634
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Nursing Scholarship
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2017


  • Climate change
  • disasters
  • public health

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Nursing(all)


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