The Mental Health Impacts of Droughts on Rural Populations

One aspect of droughts that does not get much attention is how droughts can impact people emotionally.  One reason for this lack of discussion is the fact that most of the people in the world are now living in moderate-sized to vast urban areas. 

While those living in urban areas may fret and complain about being asked or needed to use less water, very often they find doing so is easier than they initially thought.  Maybe the car isn’t washed as often; transferring from 15-minute showers to five-minute showers wasn’t as hard as anticipated; and while vegetation may suffer, very often people use the drought as an opportunity to install landscaping that requires less water, and with it, far less care, time, and attention.

Mental Health

But those living in rural areas often find drought conditions much more difficult to cope with.  A great deal of this is because these people use the land, in one of many ways, as the source of their livelihood.  If water is in short supply, everyday money issues surface, anxieties, and an array of emotional problems can soon result.

People in rural communities tend to be very stoic.  There is a culture of self-reliance in these areas of the world.  Stoic people, according to several studies over the years, tend not to seek help when they are experiencing difficulties, whether it involves their land, their business, or their emotional lives.  And if they do, they are often frowned upon by their neighbors. *

For instance, during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, government agencies started delivering food and supplies to rural people and farmers struggling to get by.  While these people welcomed and needed the supplies, what they did not welcome were the brown trucks that delivered them.  Their neighbors would see the brown trucks and ridicule these recipients for not being more self-sufficient.

This ridicule along with their stoicism further marginalized these people, especially the men.  Men are supposed to be the breadwinners for their families, especially at that time.  If they are not able to do this and their neighbors see this, then for many, their self-value has been reduced or eliminated. 

How to Address These Issues

However, some steps can be taken that should help minimize the emotional impacts of droughts, both in rural areas of the world as well as in urban areas. The three that are most important are education, technology, and realization.


In many parts of the world, drought conditions are viewed as temporary.  “We’re going through a drought now, but things should be better next year.”  That is something we hear people often say during drought conditions. But what we see more and more of is that droughts are lasting longer, are often more serious, and even more, reflect changing climate conditions. In other words, some of today’s “droughts” are reflections of the “new normal.”

We need to educate people starting at an early age in both rural and urban areas that the generous ways we consumed water in the past may be coming to an end.  An unlimited supply, and in many cases, a very inexpensive unlimited amount of water, may no longer be the case in many parts of the world in the 21st century.  If people know this and realize this, then they are often better able to cope with drought conditions, with fewer emotional impacts.


Another step is to encourage the development of technologies that help us use water far more efficiently and – very important – make sure people are aware of these technologies.  Being aware that steps are being taken to help us reduce consumption, use water more wisely, eliminate water waste, remove some of the traditional ways we use water - for instance by replacing water using urinals with no-water urinals - or turning seawater into drinking water far less expensively than in the past, brings people hope.  When people have faith, they see the future as brighter.


Finally, we must recognize that droughts can take a severe toll on people and their mental health. While the two steps just mentioned can help ease the situation, much more may be necessary, especially in rural areas of the world, to help people handle such situations.  This includes more than just those living in rural areas, but people living in developed regions, emerging countries, as well as third-world regions. Mental health facilities and resources must be available to those impacted by drought.  Mood disorders caused by droughts can and have caused physical illness. Mental health facilities and resources can help prevent this.


A frequent speaker and author on water conservation issues, Klaus Reichardt, is founder and CEO of Waterless Co. Inc., based in Vista, Calif. Reichardt founded the company in 1991 with the goal of establishing a new market segment in the plumbing fixture industry with water efficiency in mind. Along with the Waterless No-Flush urinal, which works entirely without water, the company manufactures other restroom and plumbing related products.

For ways to reduce water consumption and take advantage of the benefits of waterless urinals, please call toll free 1-800-244-6364