Headlines talk non-stop about the material damage and impacts to the tourism, coal and farming industries the flooding and subsequent cyclone Yasi brought to the states of Queensland and Victoria. But there’s another crucial component that few are paying attention to: long-term health consequences for those people and areas affected. Here are three flood concerns to look out for.
Physical Health Concerns
Down in Victoria, officials are concerned about mould problems following the heavy flooding in that state in January. Whether the water came into the property or just near it, mould runs a risk of developing. Worse, Council Recovery Manager Greg Little said it could take weeks to fully assess these effects. Mould can be hard to identify and usually comes in white, black or green and appears fuzzy. Any building with bad sub-floor ventilation proves ripe for mould.
It develops most in cupboards, corners, windows and ceilings. Symptoms of mould exposure include allergies and asthma, coughing and sneezing. Anyone who notices mould in their home should clean the area with a disinfectant or chlorine bleach.
Scientists expect the floods and overflow from the Brisbane River to significantly affect Queensland’s coastal ecosystems in the future.
“We have already observed the death of algae and biovalves and the sensors will be able to record accurate and real time measurements of other changes in the marine environment as a result of the floods,” says Ron Johnstone, associate professor of the University of Queensland’s School of Geography, Planning & Environmental Management.
Johnstone is leading the Smart Environment Monitoring and Analysis Technology (SEMAT) project to determine the flood damage at Deception Bay in Moreton Bay, known to be inhabited by the sea mammals called dugongs. Using underwater sensors, the project will monitor turbidity, salinity, light and temperature to specifically determine how the floods affected the water.
Mental and Emotional Effects
Some of the biggest health risks to residents of Queensland and Victoria and beyond may come in the form of damaged mental health. Suicide thoughts and attempts and post-traumatic stress disorder rank among some of the most prevalent problems possible, according to psychiatrist and 2010 Australian of the Year Professor Patrick McGorry. The impact may last for months to years for some individuals. Anyone who lost a loved one, property or job is at risk for depression, anxiety and sleep disturbances. Alcohol and drug abuse are additional issues related to coping with the natural disasters.
In Victoria, those in the mental health field worry especially about farmers who’ve lost crops because of the floods. Depression symptoms in this population may take as long as six months to emerge, as the time spent after a natural disaster is often spent cleaning up and being proactive.