Floods in Europe – what people can do to protect themselves

ORFK/H. Szabó Sándor

The floods in central and western Europe since early June are the worst for over a decade. Over 20 people have lost their lives; many thousands have been evacuated, and damage to homes, property and livelihoods has been extensive. The areas most affected are along the flood plains of the rivers Danube, Elbe, Saale and Vltava, in Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary and Slovakia. Flood alerts remain for the downstream Elbe and Danube, as both flow through highly populated and industrialized areas.

WHO/Europe has published advice for those affected during and after flooding, including preventive measures to limit the future impact on health. After flood waters recede, priority should be given to clean-up operations and the restoration of roads, services and homes. Key public health concerns in a recently flooded area include electrical hazards, poisoning, injuries, displaced fauna (such as rodents, snakes), mould in buildings and vectors for disease (such as mosquitoes).

Floods are expected to become even more frequent and intense, due to heavier and more frequent rainfall. Governments and local authorities should take measures to prepare for and respond to their impact on health and health services. WHO/Europe provides technical guidance and support for emergency preparedness plans and response-and-recovery measures.

Impact of flooding on health

Health effects observed during and after floods include injuries, infections, poisoning and greater mental health problems. The longer-term health effects result from displacement, shortages of safe water, injuries, disruption of access to health services and delayed recovery.