Public health faculty co-author assessment on drought, health

Jesse Bell, PhD, Rachel Lookadoo, JD, and Keith Hansen

Jesse Bell, PhD, Rachel Lookadoo, JD, and Keith Hansen

Three faculty members in the UNMC College of Public Health have developed the nation’s first comprehensive assessment of drought and health — the culmination of a research project supported by the National Integrated Drought Information System at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Jesse Bell, PhD, Rachel Lookadoo, JD, and Keith Hansen co-authored the report, titled “Drought and Public Health: A Roadmap for Advancing Engagement and Preparedness”, in partnership with drought experts Amanda Sheffield, PhD, Molly Woloszyn, Sylvia Reeves and Britt Parker of NIDIS. Published in June, it was informed by findings from the National Drought and Public Health Summit in 2019, numerous one-on-one interviews and a series of workshops between 2019–2022 that brought together federal, tribal, state, local, nonprofit and academic partners.

“By engaging with drought and health stakeholders from across the United States, we were able to observe the trends and patterns of concerns relating to drought and its health impacts at both a national and regional level,” said Lookadoo, assistant professor in the UNMC Department of Epidemiology and director of public health policy for the Water, Climate and Health Program. “As drought is such a multi-faceted issue, it requires a multi-sector approach, and we were fortunate to partner with such a diverse range of dedicated leaders.”

While the public health consequences of drought have become more evident due to historic weather events in the last decade, some are slow-moving, making them difficult to recognize, the report says. The vast impacts range from the deteriorating mental health of farmers to respiratory illnesses caused by wildfires.

“While drought is one of the costliest and deadliest climate-related disasters in the United States, we are only starting to understand its impacts on human health,” said Dr. Bell, the Claire M. Hubbard Professor of Water, Climate and Health and director for the Water, Climate and Health Program. “We are incredibly grateful to our partners and NIDIS for helping with this document, which provides guidance for public health actions to prepare and respond to the health threats associated with drought.”

Hansen, instructor in the UNMC Department of Epidemiology and co-director for the Center for Preparedness and Emergency Response Solutions, facilitated consensus workshops where participants identified potential strategies to prepare for and mitigate the impacts of drought. He said the process was an important opportunity for participants to move beyond discussions and act. As a result of this work, the report includes recommended actions to inform future efforts and investments by federal, state and local agencies.

To learn more about the report, visit the NIDIS website.