A cyclone in Burma, flooding after a
devastating earthquake and aftershocks in China, and rising waters in America's
Midwest. In addition to death and
destruction, natural disasters can cause widespread disease. VOA's Paul Sisco
On Friday, levees along the Mississippi River were
still breaking and waters were rushing
over Midwestern farmlands and communities like Winfield, Missouri.
Friday thousands of volunteers were sandbagging river
banks. Even in areas where clean up has begun, toxic waters are a concern.
When severe flooding occurs, as it has in China,
Burma and the U.S. midwest, public health is an issue.
Dr. Tee Guidotti is with George Washington
University's School of Public Health.
He says the danger to public health, after a natural disaster, is
greatest in developing countries.
"The biggest problem other than the safety
issues relating to rising water has to do with diarrheal disease,” Guidotti
said. “The flood waters will carry viruses, bacteria, pathogens that cause
diarrhea and in some cases, for example in Burma, we can expect potential risk
He says in Burma, sanitation in the Irrawaddy Delta
was poor to begin with. The lack of
access to prompt relief there could aggravate the situation. The result: possible epidemics of diarrheal disease.
There are dangers in Western countries too.
"Flood waters in addition to carrying
contaminants that are on the surface also flood sewer systems so they carry a
lot of human waste and in certain situations, for example in Iowa right now,
we're seeing flooding of animal confinement facilities," he added.
Whether in the U.S. Midwest, Burma, or China, Dr.
Guidotti says re-establishing a clean water supply is the single greatest
"We'll know we are out of the woods when people
have established clean water,” he said. “When they have a secure food supply
and they have reconstructed rudimentary
At that point, he says, a public health emergency is