Flood effects on nutrition and health


Floods are the most common natural disaster and increasing in frequency and intensity due to climate change, with short and long-term impacts on the health and livelihoods of communities. Floods can take many forms, from flash floods causing direct trauma and destruction of settlements to inundation that destroys crops and spreads water-borne pathogens. They can result in disruptions of the food system, leading to food insecurity and undernutrition. Post-flooding coping mechanisms, such as borrowing money, can perpetuate poverty. Our work thus far has focused on two flooding events on two continents.

During the FAARM trial in Bangladesh – which examines the impact of a homestead food production program on the health and nutrition of women and children – unseasonal rainfall in April 2017 filled the northeastern floodplain too early. This flood destroyed the annual rice crop before it was ready to be harvested. Ongoing data collection activities allowed an examination of the short and longer-term impacts of this mainly agricultural shock, including the impact on food security and health, as well as household's coping strategies.

In the Upper Huasco Valley of Northern Chile, a flash flood occurred in March 2015, when one year of usual rainfall fell within a few days in this arid area. This led to a rapid increase in the river level and to mudslides, destroying villages, infrastructure and agricultural areas. As part of a Junior Research Group funded by the Heidelberg Center for the Environment (HCE), we examined the immediate impacts of this event, the adaptation strategies households adopted, and the factors that influenced whether any preventive action was taken.

Key links:

Food and Agricultural Approaches to Reducing Malnutrition (FAARM)

Junior Research Group "Environment and Health in Arid Regions: Dynamics of Urbanisation, Challenges of Water Resource Management and New Risks for Human Well-Being"

Project team:

External collaborators:

  • Dr. Juliane Dame, Institute of Geography, Heidelberg University
  • Abdul Kader, Helen Keller International – Bangladesh Office, Dhaka, Bangladesh


  • Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) for FAARM
  • Heidelberg Center for the Environment, Heidelberg University


Gepp S, Waid JL, Brombierstäudl D, Kader A, Müller-Hauser AA, Wendt AS, Dame J, Gabrysch S. (2022). Impact of unseasonable flooding on women's food security and mental health in rural Sylhet, Bangladesh: a longitudinal observational study. The Lancet Planetary Health. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/S2542-5196(22)00276-5

Meltzer L, Dame J,  Gabrysch S. (2021). Flood affectedness and household adaptation measures in rural Northern Chile: A cross-sectional study in the Upper Huasco Valley. International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction, 64(102499). doi: 10.1016/j.ijdrr.2021.102499

Gabrysch, S., Waid, J.L., Wendt, A.S., Müller, A.A., Kader, A., Gosh, U. (2018) Nutritional effects of flooding due to unseasonably early monsoon rainfall in Bangladesh: a cross-sectional study in an ongoing cluster-randomised trial. The Lancet Planetary Health, 2(S1):S3, doi: 10.1016/S2542-5196(18)30088-3.

Meltzer, L., Dame, J., Gabrysch, S. (2017) Nach der Flut: Auswirkungen und Anpassungsmaßnahmen im Huasco-Tal, Chile (After the flood: Impacts and adaptation strategies in the Huasco Valley, Chile). UMID: Umwelt und Mensch – Informationsdienst, 2, 54-59.