California Drought Under New Melones Bridge on Dry Lakebed stock photo

Resource Roundup on Public Health Impacts of Drought

Jun 17, 2024 | Nikita Kheni, Rebecca Rainey

Droughts have changed and increased in frequency, intensity, and duration due to climate change since the beginning of the 20th century. More severe drought means restricted access to water for drinking, cooking, growing food, and for sanitation and hygiene.

There are several public health impacts of drought, including increased risk of chronic disease, mental health impacts, toxic exposure from groundwater contamination, infectious diseases, air quality impacts from extreme heat and wildfires, and displacement and mass migration of agricultural workers.

There are also several links between drought and health equity. Droughts impact populations such as minority and low-income communities, agricultural workers, rural communities, tribal communities, and people with chronic illnesses. These populations may face disproportionate impacts including adverse economic impact, lack of access to clean, potable water, and exacerbation of pre-existing diseases.

NACCHO is committed to supporting local health departments (LHDs) in their efforts to prepare for, and mitigate, the public health impacts of drought. This resource roundup contains information for public health professionals on the impacts of drought, drought data and reports, and guidance for drought preparation, response, and communication.

Information about droughts and mapping tools

  • Said to be a “one stop shop” for federal, tribal, state, and local government agencies, researchers, policymakers, the public, and more, serves as a centralized location for drought information, data, resources, and tools. Information can be sorted by U.S. locations and by affected sectors such as agriculture, transportation, and wildfire management. Additional information about regional drought early warning systems and funding opportunities is also available.
    • Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS)
  • The U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM) releases a map every Thursday that shows the intensity and impact of ongoing drought in the United States. There is also a weekly drought summary report for every region. Additionally, data is available to view population statistics, current conditions, outlooks, and the Drought Severity and Coverage Index, which converts drought values from the USDM map to show dryness of an area.
  • The Drought Impacts Toolkit provides several map-based tracking tools including an impact dashboard, impact reports by state, an atlas, and a media index for drought news in the United States. Additionally, there are several other resources on emerging drought impacts and post-drought impact assessments at the state, regional, national, continental, and global level. The assessments are useful for learning about the impacts of drought on agriculture, health, and communities, and about drought responses and outcomes.


  • This CDC guide is a comprehensive scientific tool to help public health officials prepare for, or respond to, drought. The document starts with an overview of drought and water shortage-related information and then addresses specific health effects of drought. Lastly, it provides information for preparing and responding to drought, both in the early stages and in severe, late-stage drought conditions, and discusses drought-related work that needs to be done in the future.
    • To obtain a copy of or for more information about When Every Drop Counts: Protecting Public Health During Drought Conditions—A Guide for Public Health Professionals, please send an e-mail to [email protected].
  • This resource guide is a supplement to CDC’s When Every Drop Counts. It consists of five modules and two handouts. The modules provide information and training to help public health professionals prepare for drought. One handout introduces non-public health professionals to the role that public health departments play in drought response, and the other handout is geared toward making policymakers aware of the impact of drought on health and the economy.
  • NIDIS and the University of Nebraska Medical Center convened a variety of stakeholders in one national summit, five regional workshops, and one-on-one interviews to gather knowledge on the linkages between drought and public health. The result is Drought and Public Health: A Roadmap for Advancing Engagement and Preparedness, the first comprehensive assessment of drought and health in the United States. This report provides specific examples of the connection between drought and public health. It also shares key recommendations for action to advance drought and public health preparedness through partnerships and collaboration, communication and outreach, research, and planning and preparedness.

Communication tools

  • This new guide released in April 2024 provides a background on drought and health and a messaging framework for public health professionals and healthcare providers to respond to drought impact in their communities. The framework gives example communications for LHDs to share and provides guidance on tailoring messaging based on the stage of drought and the specific needs of a community.
  • CDC and the National Public Health Information Coalition developed a drought communication toolkit for addressing the public health impacts of drought. The communication resources cover three broad categories: preparedness, awareness, and safety. There are also resources for specific facilities and groups of people, including homeowners, industries, recreational facilities, and vulnerable populations, such older adults, infants and children, and people with low income.

Further Reading: NACCHO Resources Related to Droughts:

How Local Health Departments can Assist in Response to the California Drought

About Nikita Kheni

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