Findings from a review conducted by University
of Melbourne researchers shows multiple disasters
can have complex impacts on physical health, mental
health and well-being which go beyond what has
been observed after single disasters.
The study reviewed all empirical research that
could be identified on direct and indirect public
health effects associated with experiencing multiple
disasters and included 150 articles published globally.
Published today in the Lancet Public Health, Dr
Claire Leppold and fellow University of Melbourne
co-authors Professor Lisa Gibbs, Dr Karen Block, Dr
Lennart Reifels and Ms Phoebe Quinn detail the ways
multiple disaster exposures can impact physical health,
mental health, wellbeing and resilience. It also
details indirect influences on health such as impacts
on healthcare facilities, changes in risk perception
and evacuation behaviours, and government responses
to multiple disasters.
Most public health research in this field has been
based on the premise of a single disaster occurring,
but there is a growing number of cases where communities
experience more than one disaster. For example, some
communities across Victoria, Australia, experienced the
2019-20 Black Summer Bushfires, the COVID-19 pandemic
from early 2020 and then major flooding events in 2021.
International examples of multiple disaster exposures
abound; most recently, the Hunga Tonga volcanic eruption
which then led to a tsunami. Tonga now faces impacts
from two types of disasters at the same time.
“To our knowledge, this is the first review of the public
health implications of multiple disasters. This is an
important topic given the projected increases in frequency
and severity of disasters due to climate change, and
the fact that many people ad communities are already
experiencing multiple disasters,” Dr Claire Leppold,
the lead author of the study, said.
While some researchers have previously speculated that
exposure to one disaster could have a positive effect
of preparing people mentally for future disasters, Dr
Leppold said the review could not find any consistent
evidence to support this.
“Our review finds evidence that risks of poor mental
health and physical health outcomes tend to increase
with each disaster experienced, highlighting a cumulative
effect. These findings underscore the importance of
developing further support for people and communities
affected by multiple disasters, and for policy responses
to reduce the likelihood of climate hazards leading to
Dr Leppold notes the complex nature of health and wellbeing
impacts. “This review also identified, for example, mixed
evidence on how experiencing multiple disasters can affect
risk perception and evacuation decisions, which can affect
public health in terms of non-evacuation or delayed evacuation.
There is a need for more research in this area.”
Co-author Dr Lennart Reifels said: “Research in the burgeoning
area of multiple disaster exposures will be vital to informing
the ways in which we can best assist affected communities and
prepare public health systems to avert the future health
risks and impacts of multiple disasters. This seminal review
makes an important contribution by summarising the current
state of the evidence on the public health consequences
of multiple disaster exposures with a view to fostering
future research and inform effective responses.”
THE UNIVERSITY OF MELBOURNE
Provided by the IKCEST Disaster Risk Reduction Knowledge Service System