Planning for the health impacts of climate change: Flooding, private groundwater contamination and waterborne infection – A cross-sectional study of risk perception, experience and behaviours in the Republic of Ireland
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The frequency and severity of flooding events will increase over the coming decades due to global climate change. While close attention has typically been paid to infrastructural and environmental outcomes of flood events, the potential adverse human health consequences associated with post-event consumption from private groundwater sources have received minimal attention, leading to a poor understanding of private well users' preparedness and the drivers of positive behavioural adoption. The current study sought to quantify the capacity of private well users to cope with flood-triggered contamination risks and identify the social psychological determinants of proactive attitudes in the Republic of Ireland, using a cross-sectional questionnaire incorporating two distinct models of health behaviour, the Health Belief Model and Risk-Attitude-Norms-Ability-Self Regulation model. Adoption of healthy behaviours prior to flooding was evaluated with respect to respondents' risk exposure, risk experience and risk perception, in addition to systematic supply stewardship under normal conditions. Associations between adoption of protective behaviours and perception, experience and socio-demographic factors were evaluated through multinomial and multiple logistic regressions, while a multi-model inferential approach was employed with the predictors of health behaviour models. Findings suggest that floods are not considered likely to occur, nor were respondents worried about their occurrence, with 72.5% of respondents who reported previous flooding experience failing to adopt protective actions. Prior experience of well water contamination increased adoption of proactive attitudes when flooding occurred (+47%), with a failure to adopt healthy behaviours higher among rural non-agricultural residents (136%). Low levels of preparedness to deal with flood-related contamination risks are a side-effect of the general lack of appropriate well stewardship under normal conditions; just 10.1% of respondents adopted both water treatment and frequent testing, in concurrence with limited risk perception and poor awareness of the nexus between risk factors (e.g. floods, contamination sources) and groundwater quality. Perceived risk, personal norms and social norms were the best predictors of protective behaviour adoption and should be considered when developing future awareness campaigns.
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