Flooding, drought, and human health in Africa

Activity: Talk or presentationOral presentation


Human health is one of the key foundations of sustainable development. Extreme weather events such droughts and floods, which are expected to increase in intensity and frequency worldwide and particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, impair the health and well-being of affected populations, especially of vulnerable groups in rural communities. Droughts and floods threaten food and overall security, cause disruption of social networks and force migration. Moreover, they have the potential to impair the availability, quality and access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene, thereby increasing the exposure to infectious diseases. Extreme weather events may damage or disrupt infrastructure, and cause the inaccessibility of health services, including prevention, treatment and care. The resulting dual health burden (increased incidence of disease and health sector response constrained by destruction) during and after such events is often not sufficiently addressed by policy-makers.

Two studies that address flooding, drought and human health in Africa are presented.

A mixed-methods study from a small wetland in semiarid Central Kenya shows that (perceived) water-related health risks differ between different seasons, and intensify during flooding and drought. During floods, the local population struggles mainly with vector-related or waterborne diseases, injuries and fatalities, and the disruption of health services. During drought, water-washed diseases and mental health effects are prevalent, and water scarcity causes malnutrition and conflicts between different water users.

A qualitative study from rural semiarid Northern Namibia creates an understanding of the impact that flooding has on health service providers for people living with HIV in the region. It shows how public health response can be improved by better communication and collaboration between different sectors (health, water, emergency management, education, infrastructure, gender, etc.).

Both case studies show that holistic solutions that cut across multiple areas of expertise and that integrate grassroots recommendations to inform decision-making are needed to prepare for and respond to extreme weather events.

Key references
Anthonj, C., Diekkrüger, B., Borgemeister, C., Kistemann, T., 2019. Health risk perceptions and local knowledge of water-related infectious disease exposure among Kenyan wetland communities. Int J Hyg Env Health 222 (1), 34-48.
Anthonj, C., Nkongolo, O.T., Schmitz, P., Hango, J.N., Kistemann, T., 2015. The Impact of Flooding on People living with HIV: a case study from Ohangwena Region, Namibia. Glob Health Action 8, 26441.
Period17 Jan 2020
Event title2020 Symposium on Environment, Development, and Sustainable Communities in Africa
Event typeConference
LocationChapel Hill, United StatesShow on map


  • water
  • health
  • extreme weather events
  • flooding
  • health risk perception
  • health risk behaviour
  • Africa
  • grassroots recommendations