Modeling the Impact of Flood Pulses on Disease Outbreaks in Large Water Basins with Scarce Data

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Virginia Tech

Large river water basins play a critical role in the economic, health, and biodiversity conditions of a region. In some basins, such as the Zambezi River Basin, extreme weather events introduce cycles of drought and heavy rainfall that can have extreme impacts on local communities vulnerable to environmental shifts. Annual flood pulse dynamics drive ecological dynamics in the system. In the dry season, water dependent wildlife in northern Botswana concentrates along the Chobe River- Floodplains. Elephant concentration, in particular, is matched to surface water quality declines. These flood pulse events have been linked to diarrheal disease outbreaks in the local population, the magnitude of which is associated positively with flood height. Modeling these interactions can advance our ability to predict events and develop mitigation and prevention actions. However, many challenges hinder this development including availability of data in regions that lack resources and the difficulties in create models for such large basins that account for overland water movement. This thesis presents work focused on addressing these challenges. Chapter 2 reports the development of a freely available Large Basin Data Portal (LBDP) that can be used to identify and create critical inputs for hydrodynamic models. This portal was used to create a hydrological model of the Upper Zambezi River Basin model (Chapter 3), a hydrodynamic model of the one of the three subbasins of the Zambezi River. The model was used to calculate downstream river discharges entering the Chobe-Zambezi Floodplains based on upstream rain events. The Upper Zambezi River Basin model was integrated with another more detailed model of the Chobe- Zambezi Floodplains (Chapter 4) that is designed to model the Chobe River and flood water movement in the floodplains. The models were created using the set of MIKE modeling software. The models were used to study various scenarios including water reductions that might occur due to climate change or drought and water increase that might be associated with extreme weather events.

Upper Zambezi River Basin, Hydrodynamic Model, Zambezi River, Chobe River, Chobe-Zambezi Floodplains. Botswana, forecasting, flood, extreme weather events, health, flood pulse