How does this relate to public health?
The effects of drought on public health can be numerous and severe. Drought is not only linked to increases in heat-related illness, waterborne illness and cardiorespiratory illness, but also mental illness (due to crop failure or other loss of income), recreational risks (due to harmful algal blooms), limited food availability (due to crop failure), and reduced living conditions (due to higher electricity demands).1
Image from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Among individuals whose livelihoods rely on water, such as farmers, financial-related stress can lead to mental health illness including depression and suicide thoughts. Moreover, decreased quantities and quality of water during drought can lead to reduced availability of electricity. Individuals who rely heavily on equipment or machines that run on electricity, such as the elderly or hospitalized patients, can be at increased risk for injury or death.
Drought can also have significant impacts on the economy. For example, in the first year of a severe drought from 2007 to 2009, the U.S. Southeast lost over $1.3 billion due to destruction of major crops such as corn, wheat, soybeans, cotton, and hay. During this unprecedented drought, utility companies in North Carolina enacted water conservation measures, while city officials banned filling of new swimming pools, serving of water at restaurants unless requested, and requested that hotel guests reuse towels and linens during their stay.1,2
1Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency, and American Water Works Association. 2010. When every drop counts: protecting public health. <http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/ehs/publications/Drought.htm>
2Manuel, J. 2008. Drought in the Southeast: Lessons for water management. Environews: Spheres of influence. Apr 116(4):A168-A171.