A Promising Tool to Assess Long Term Public Health Effects of Natural Disasters

PLOS_ONECombining Routine Health Survey Data and Geographic Information Systems to Assess Stunting after the 2001 Earthquake in Peru

PLOS | One, Published Online 19 June 2015

By Henny Rydberg, Gaetano Marrone, Susanne Strömdahl, and Johan von Schreeb

Background: Research on long-term health effects of earthquakes is scarce, especially in low- and middle-income countries, which are disproportionately affected by disasters. To date, progress in this area has been hampered by the lack of tools to accurately measure these effects. Here, we explored whether long-term public health effects of earthquakes can be assessed using a combination of readily available data sources on public health and geographic distribution of seismic activity.

ShakeMap image of the 2001 southern Peru earthquake.

ShakeMap image of the 2001 southern Peru earthquake.

Methods: We used childhood stunting as a proxy for public health effects. Data on stunting were attained from Demographic and Health Surveys. Earthquake data were obtained from U.S. Geological Survey’s ShakeMaps, geographic information system-based maps that divide earthquake affected areas into different shaking intensity zones. We combined these two data sources to categorize the surveyed children into different earthquake exposure groups, based on how much their area of residence was affected by the earthquake. We assessed the feasibility of the approach using a real earthquake case – an 8.4 magnitude earthquake that hit southern Peru in 2001.

 GIS-based map of the areas affected by the 2001 southern Peru earthquake.

GIS-based map of the areas affected by the 2001 southern Peru earthquake.

Results and conclusions: Our results indicate that the combination of health survey data and disaster data may offer a readily accessible and accurate method for determining the long-term public health consequences of a natural disaster. Our work allowed us to make pre- and post- earthquake comparisons of stunting, an important indicator of the well-being of a society, as well as comparisons between populations with different levels of exposure to the earthquake. Furthermore, the detailed GIS based data provided a precise and objective definition of earthquake exposure. Our approach should be considered in future public health and disaster research exploring the long-term effects of earthquakes and potentially other natural disasters.”