The study highlights the economic, mental health impacts of COVID-19 on people affected by climate disasters

When the Children’s Environmental Health Initiative (CEHI) launched the Texas Flood Registry in April 2018, the goal was to develop a needs assessment focusing on the health and shelter impacts of the greater Houston area, which was still undergoing recovered less than a year after the devastating Hurricane Harvey. fall to the ground.

In 2019, Tropical Storm Imelda dealt another blow to the state, causing significant flooding and hitting an already hard-hit community -; an example of how climate change is causing intensified storms and climate-related events to occur more frequently.

Then came COVID-19.

Building on the existing registry, researchers at CEHI, with collaborators at Rice University and the Environmental Defense Fund, deployed new surveys to assess the economic and health impacts of the pandemic nationally, but with a particular focus on those hit hard. from eachother. climate disasters. Two results stood out.

Respondents with the greatest economic and mental health impacts from Hurricane Harvey were respectively four times more likely to experience loss of income during the pandemic and five times more likely to suffer severe anxiety due to the pandemic than respondents who did not were severely affected by the storm.

This study highlights the cumulative effect of economic stress and mental health impacts on an individual’s well-being when exposed to a series of multiple crises. To see a four- or five-fold increase in these statistical patterns is very concerning, and the time between events highlights the cumulative and sustained impacts of these stressors.”

Marie Lynn Miranda, Director of CEHI and Professor, Department of Applied and Computational Mathematics and Statistics, University of Notre Dame

The Texas Flood Registry is the first of its kind to track the short- and long-term health and shelter impacts of hurricanes using online survey data.

For the study, the team analyzed survey data collected between April 2018 and October 2020 from individuals affected by Hurricane Harvey and other major flooding events, including Tropical Storm Imelda. The registry first asked about experiences during and after each storm, including loss of property or income, and feelings of distress related to Hurricane Harvey.

Surveys to determine the impact of COVID-19 were released in April 2020 with similar questions. The results were drawn from a sample of nearly 3,000 respondents who completed both surveys.

The economic and mental health stress felt during Hurricane Harvey had a greater impact on how individuals coped during the pandemic than the issues of property damage and flooding. Non-Hispanic black respondents and Hispanic respondents were more than twice as likely to report having trouble paying rent or bills during the pandemic compared to non-Hispanic white respondents, consistent with other studies showing that they groups have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

Researchers at CEHI say the study could help inform recovery efforts, which tend to focus on the acute impacts of natural disasters like property damage, but neglect long-term effects like mental health.

The research can also help federal, state, and local officials identify those communities at higher risk of emotional and economic stress during and after severe climate events that may benefit from additional aid or assistance.

“Natural disasters are increasing in frequency and intensity due to climate change, and this study shows that repeated exposure to disasters affects resilience,” Miranda said. “The emotional and economic impacts of these events, especially for high-risk groups, are felt for years — long after the storm itself has passed.”


Journal reference:

Caller, R., et al. (2022) Economic and mental health impacts of multiple adverse events: Hurricane Harvey, other flood events, and the COVID-19 pandemic. Environmental Research.

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