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Climate and Health: Drought and Your Health

A dry river bed caused by drought

Ongoing drought conditions can place a strain on human health. Drought conditions may lead to food insecurity resulting from crop failures or market demands driving up food costs, and respiratory distress from dust, pollen, and other airborne particles. Drought can potentially threaten drinking water quality and quantity for all water users. Residents depending on groundwater for drinking water may notice water with different tastes or odors due to changes in water chemistry, and may be at risk for consuming heavy metals, organics, and other groundwater contaminants.

Similar to the impacts of heat extremes, drought can negatively affect agriculture through crop failures, livestock water shortages, and the resulting economic losses to farmers, food processors, and the trucking industry. Drought conditions will also place a stronger demand on groundwater resources, as farmers look to irrigate valuable crops

There is also a strong correlation between drought conditions and the occurrence of wildfires, which are associated with injury or death, eye irritation, and exacerbation of asthma and other respiratory diseases. The following table shows health related concerns regarding drought and what actions should be taken during drought times.

Health concerns and solutions
Concern Signs and Symptoms Solutions
Extreme Heat
  • Heat exhaustion
  • Heat stroke
  • Stay cool
  • Stay hydrated
  • Stay informed
Diminished Food Supply
  • Drought damaged crops
  • Healthy foods not readily available or more expensive
  • Maintain the healthiest diet possible
  • Seek services of food banks or other resources if necessary
Poor Air Quality
  • Breathing Problems
  • Worsening asthma or other respiratory conditions
  • Fatigue with exertion
  • Stay indoors
  • Avoid strenuous outdoor activity
  • Take prescribed medications
  • Talk to your health care provider if symptoms worsen
Limited Water Supply
  • Lower lake and river levels
  • Lower water levels in aquifers, thus affecting private wells
  • Public restrictions on water use
  • Listen for local government officials' directions on how to conserve water
  • Continue practicing proper sanitation
  • Use recycled water for non-sanitary purposes
  • Avoid swimming in warm shallow waters
  • For Private well users: Know and obey federal, state, and local restrictions on water use
Mental Health
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Depression
  • Consult with a mental health provider and/or your doctor

For more information on drought and health, see the following resources.

Department of Health Services resources

Wisconsin resources

Other resources

Last revised August 16, 2023