PUBLISHED: 09 April 2014

Social Impacts of Flooding

Flooding does not only result in destroyed infrastructure and damaged property, but also has an adverse social impact on citizens affected by the natural disaster. Impacts on physical and mental health can be both short-term and long-term and can result in changes to the livelihoods of affected citizens[1]. While more personal, the social repercussions of flooding have impacts on individuals and families that can be felt in other areas of work and life, therefore, addressing the social impacts of flooding is important for support and recovery efforts after a flood occurs.

Direct Impact

Health (Physical and Mental)

The impacts of flooding on physical and mental health can be extensive. Alberta’s June 2013 floods resulted in four lost lives while many more people were left grappling with emotional consequences, stress and anxiety. The stress of dealing with a traumatic event can exacerbate pre-existing health conditions and lead to a variety of illnesses that continue to impact lives long after flood waters have receded. For example, after the 1998 and 2000 floods in England an increase in gastrointestinal and respiratory illnesses was documented[2]. Additionally, stress associated with flooding can lead to an increase in headaches, stomach problems, colds or allergies[3].  

Flood waters are often contaminated with debris, pollutants and sometimes even sewage that pose the potential for serious injury or death for those who come into contact. Furthermore, fast moving and murky water can create additional dangers that cannot be seen such as sinkholes, moved manhole covers and sharp objects. Thus, the risks to one’s physical health are always present until flood waters have receded and clean-up efforts begin. Before, during and after a flood require due diligence and safety measures to be implemented to protect individuals from being impacted. 

A 2008 study form the UK found that stress can stay with flood victims for up to a year and a half after the traumatic event with the most stressful period being the process of cleaning and renovating flood impacted homes. The stress of returning a home to pre-flood conditions can be intensified if the individual has negative experiences with insurers or builders[4]. Acute stress, clinical depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are associated with flooding and the intensity of response can depend on the severity of the flood.  

Cultural Events and Discoveries/ Recreation 

Southern Alberta is home to numerous museums, archives, art galleries and heritage sites. Although a number of museums and cultural institutions were spared, many were in the direct flood path and sustained severe damage. High River’s Museum of the Highwood, Fort Calgary, the City of Calgary Archives, Fort Whoop-up, Helen Schulare Nature Centre in Lethbridge, the Buffalo Nations Luxton Museum in Banff, and Heritage Park in Fort McMurray were all damaged[5]. The Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies in Banff managed to escape harm[6], however, the Museum of the Highwood in High River was not as lucky. Many important artifacts were stored in the basement of the museum which resulted in approximately three quarters of the collection being destroyed[7]. Although these artifacts have a monetary value, the historical and cultural loss of these artifacts is more difficult to assess.   

Alternatively, once flood waters recede and citizens return to recreational activities, artifacts such as fossils can be found that flood waters uncovered. For example, in the days after the June 2013 floods in southern Alberta, reports emerged of dinosaur fossil discoveries that had never before been uncovered[8]. The impact of these findings contributed to Alberta’s heritage and remains a positive impact of the June 2013 floods.

In December 2013, the calculated loss to the Calgary arts community was $3 million however, this number remains an estimate as groups continue to assess their losses. Damaged or destroyed venues, loss of equipment or supplies, cancelled contracts, refunded tickets and lost revenue due to cancelled or postponed events contributed to this loss and had a significant social impact on the community[9]. One of the most high profile cancelled cultural events was the popular music festival Sled Island[10]. Sled Island offered to refund ticket holders but noted 70% of festival expenses were non-refundable. If every ticket was refunded losses were estimated at $500,000. Customers were able to donate the cost of their ticket and Sled Island successfully raised $38,687[11].

Indirect Impact

Over time, the indirect social impacts of flooding can be felt. Citizens can become impatient and unsatisfied with decision-makers in provincial and municipal government as well as insurance companies and other service providers. This dissatisfaction can manifest and result in negative political implications for decision-makers.. 

[1]Associated Programme on Flood Management. (2013). What are the negative social impacts of flooding?. Retrieved from 

[2]“Exploring the Social Impacts of Flood Risk and Flooding in Scotland.” The Scottish Government. Published April 2007.

[3]Recovery After a Disaster or Emergency. Alberta Health Services. 

[4]Martin, Kate. (2008, September 16). Social Impacts of Flood ‘should be planned for’. Edie Water. Retreived from   

[5]Wheeler, Lauren. (2013, 22 June). Canmore, Floods, and Southern Alberta Museums. [Weblog Entry]. Retrieved from 

[6]Brisbane, Justin. (2014, June 27). Banff’ feeling pretty lucky’ in flood aftermath. Rocky Mountain Outlook. Retrieved from 

[7]White, Patrick. (2014, March 6). After deluge, High River’s museum thaws out Alberta’s history. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved from 

[8]Dunn, Katherine. (2013, July 14). Alberta is dinosaur galore: as flood waters recede, scientists urge public to keep eyes peeled for fossils. National Post. Retrieved from 

[9]Calgary Arts Development. Alberta Art Flood Rebuild. Invest YYC. Retrieved from  

[10]MacNeil, Jason. (2013, June 21). Sled Island Festival Cancelled due to Calgary Flood. Huffington Post. Retrieved from

[11]“Alberta Art Flood Rebuild.” Invest YYC.