Disaster, Climate Change, and Public Health: Building Social-Ecological Resilience

Peter R. Teahen, International Mass Fatalities Center; Dr. Vilia Tarvydas, University of Iowa; Dr. Lisa Lopez Levers, Duquesne University

The number of natural disasters worldwide is increasing, and many scientists have linked this with climate change (e.g., NASA, n.d.; O'Brien, O'Keefe, Rose, & Wisner, 2006; Thomalla, Downing, Spanger-Siegfried, Han, & Rockström, 2006). War and other armed conflict consistently have played in the realm of global disasters (Barnet & Adger, 2007; Leaning & Guha-Sapir, 2013; Reuveny 2007), as have migration (Reuveny 2007) and other development-related vulnerabilities (Haines, Kovats, Campbell-Lendrum, & Corvalan, 2006; Schipper & Pelling, 2006). Over the past 20 years, the number of recorded disasters has doubled from around 200 to more than 400 per year (UN, n.d.).

Climate change, especially when coupled with under development, environmental degradation and urbanization, is becoming a critical driver of disaster risk. People in developing countries already are bearing the brunt of increasingly frequent and intense floods, storms and droughts, and this burden is expected to increase over time. While poor people in poor countries disproportionately are affected by war and major disasters, the devastating legacy of disasters like Hurricane Katrina offers compelling evidence for the need for disaster preparedness and response. While disaster preparedness has become a key public health issue (Haines et al., 2006; Keim, 2008; Leaning & Guha-Sapir, 2013; McMichael, Woodruff, & Hales, 2006), it underscores the need for interdisciplinary considerations of assessment in this important arena (e.g., Füssel & Klein, 2006; Lindell & Prater, 2003).

Many are looking to social-ecological theories, interdisciplinary by nature, for solution-focused strategies to build resilient communities that are better prepared for disaster. The purpose of this paper is to integrate an interdisciplinary literature that illuminates how the above issues are linked. The presenters propose a model, based on the most relevant literature, that aligns pertinent disaster, climate change and public health concerns with a social-ecological perspective on response, community resilience and survival.