Climate change and urban health

2012 - 2018

As well as increasing loss of life and injury from extreme events, climate change will exacerbate health risks from diseases that are among the main causes of premature death in informal settlements.

Old Fadama, Ghana: health conditions in many low-income and informal settlements will be worsened further by rising temperatures and changing rainfall patterns (Photo: David Dodman/IIED)

The last few years have brought a very large increase in the literature on climate change and cities. Much of this is concerned with household, community and city resilience to the risks climate change is bringing or is likely to bring. But this literature has also highlighted how health risks are particularly high in informal settlements where there are large deficits in provision for risk-reducing infrastructure (including piped water, provision for sanitation and drainage) and services (including solid waste collection, health care and emergency services). 

For cities on low-income and many middle-income nations, there is very limited government capacity to address this deficit – let alone integrate measures to reduce climate change risk into city development. 

So those living in informal settlements who already face very large health risks are likely to be among those most impacted by climate change. As the IPCC's Fifth Assessment highlights, a high proportion of these live in cities with very little capacity to adapt.

IIED has long had an interest in the health risks that low-income urban dwellers face in their home and neighbourhood. This began during the 1980s with research on health risks in informal settlements by partners in Khartoum, Allahabad and Buenos Aires. 

During the 1990s, the work extended to include climate change and its current or future influences on these risks, and IIED staff contributed to the 3rd, 4th and 5th IPCC Assessments on this topic. 

IIED's work within the Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network (ACCCRN) programme has encouraged and supported work on health risks while IIED's journal Environment and Urbanization has published many papers on this topic, including two special issues on resilience.

IIED's work on urban poverty and the most effective ways to address it includes a particular attention to the implications for climate change resilience of different development models. IIED also commissioned the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine to write a working paper on Climate and health in informal urban settlements on how to assess the health impacts of climate change.

What IIED will do

We will continue to draw attention to the health impacts of climate change on low-income urban dwellers and the settlements in which they live, and clarify how attention to this should fit within development and disaster risk reduction agendas.

IIED is part of a research consortium led by King's College London seeking to improve understanding of risk and vulnerability among low-income groups in cities in Africa.

Between 2015 and 2017, this will include work in Dakar (Senegal), Ibadan (Nigeria), Karonga (Malawi), Mombasa and Nairobi (Kenya) and Niamey (Niger).


Climate and health in informal urban settlements, Sari Kovats, Simon Lloyd and Noah Scovronick (2014), IIED Human Settlements Working paper 

Additional resources

Towards resilience and transformation for cities, Environment & Urbanization, Volume 25, No. 2 (2013)

Towards resilience and transformation for cities II,  Environment & Urbanization, Volume 26, No. 1 (2014)


UK aid


King's College London

Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)

African Population and Health Research Centre

University of Ibadan

Mzuzu University

Université Abdou Moumouni

University of Cape Town

Development Planning Unit at University College London


International Alert

Save the Children


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