Floods account for 40% of the natural disasters that occur in developed and developing countries3. A major consequence of floods is the accompanying nutritional challenge to maintain public health1. While the nutritional management of flood-affected areas is a global challenge that has been researched by the World Health Organization (WHO), it seems to, nevertheless, hit hard when a region experiences it unprepared, and for the first time. I think of it, now, because Chennai (formerly Madras) a coastal city in the south east of India where I was born and still have family and friends is being ravaged by floods in an unprecedented manner resulting in devastating loss of life and property.
The role of nutrition is critical in the relief, rehabilitation and development phase of managing flood-affected areas. While there are many biological, geographical, cultural, political and socio-economic variables of flood management, there are general nutritional guidelines that have been researched and outlined by the WHO. Of these guidelines two stand out the most:
1. The safety of drinking water:
The supply of drinking water has a high risk of being contaminated in flood affected areas. Safety of water can be ensured by either boiling water for a minute, and preferably longer or by treating it with a chloride agent at a specific concentration1.
The safety of drinking water is of relevance regardless of the extent to which someone may have been affected by the flood.
Just like drinking water, the risk of vegetables and fruits being contaminated may also be high. Hence well-cooked foods should be considered over raw and uncooked food2.
2. The importance of energy and protein: When access to food is limited, it is critically important to find the simplest and easiest method to obtain both energy-rich calories and protein. These considerations seem to bear particular significance when donating and preparing food for shelters, and specifically when addressing nutrition of pregnant and lactating women, infants and children, and the elderly.
Here are some examples:
Cereals like rice and millet mixed with pulses like dried beans (or lentils that are easier to cook) or groundnuts (that also have energy-rich fats) that are high in protein, provide basic energy requirements.
From the WHO:
"...disease outbreaks in disaster regions has the potential to claim as many lives as the disaster itself, and that safe water and food are the two main factors to prevent such outbreaks2."
1. The management of nutrition in major emergencies, World Health Organization, Geneva 2000
2. Ensuring food safety in the aftermath of natural disasters, World Health Organization
3. Floods in south east Asia: a health priority by Jacqueline Torti in Journal of Global Health, December 2012