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PLoS One. 2017 Jul 25;12(7):e0181394. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0181394. eCollection 2017.

Indicators to measure risk of disaster associated with drought: Implications for the health sector.

Author information

Institute of Scientific and Technological Communication and Information in Health (ICICT), Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz), Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Department of Global Health, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, USA.
National School of Public Health (ENSP), Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz), Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Faculty of Health, University of Canberra, Canberra, Australia.



Brazil has a large semiarid region, which covers part of 9 states, over 20% of the 5565 municipalities in the country and at 22.5 million persons, 12% of the country's population. This region experiences recurrent and extended droughts and is characterized by low economic development, scarcity of natural resources including water, and difficult agricultural and livestock production. Local governments and communities need easily obtainable tools to aid their decision making process in managing risks associated with drought.


To inform decision-making at the level of municipalities, we investigated factors contributing to the health risks of drought. We used education and poverty indicators to measure vulnerability, number of drought damage evaluations and historical drought occurrences as indicators of hazard, and access to water as an indicator of exposure, to derive a drought disaster risk index.


Indicators such as access to piped water, illiteracy and poverty show marked differences in most states and, in nearly all states, the living conditions of communities in the semiarid region are worse than in the rest of each state. There are municipalities at high drought disaster risk in every state and there are a larger number of municipalities at higher risks from the center to the north of the semiarid region.


Understanding local hazards, exposures and vulnerabilities provides the means to understand local communities' risks and develop interventions to reduce them. In addition, communities in these regions need to be empowered to add their traditional knowledge to scientific tools, and to identify the actions most relevant to their needs and realities.

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