Urban health focus for millions vulnerable to rising temperatures, sea levels

A view of Petare shantytown, one of Latin America’s largest slums, in Caracas, Venezuela.

Health Day Focuses on Helping Cities Weather Climate Change

By Cheryl Pellerin
Science Writer   (U.S. Department of State)

Washington ? The goal of World Health Day 2010, themed “1,000 Cities, 1,000 Lives,” is to raise awareness about public health in urban areas. The message is critically important to hundreds of millions of city dwellers who already may be experiencing the health-threatening effects of climate change.

April 7 has been commemorated as World Health Day since 1950 to mark the founding of the World Health Organization (WHO). Each year, WHO chooses a key global health issue and organizes international, regional and local events on the day and throughout the year to highlight the issue. For this year’s campaign, events on urbanization and health will be organized worldwide April 7–11.

The vulnerability of human settlements — at a time when half the world’s population lives in cities — is projected to increase due to the rising sea levels, inland floods, frequent and stronger tropical cyclones, periods of increased heat, and disease spread that climate change is beginning to generate.

“The emerging picture of the 21st century city fits many descriptions,” United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon wrote in the forward of the U.N. Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT) report, The State of the World’s Cities 2010/2011: Bridging the Urban Divide.

“Some are centers of rapid industrial growth and wealth creation, often accompanied by harmful waste and pollution. Others are characterized by stagnation, urban decay and rising social exclusion and intolerance,” he wrote. “Both scenarios point to the urgent need for new, more sustainable approaches to urban development. Both argue for greener, more resilient and inclusive towns and cities that can help combat climate change and resolve age-old urban inequalities.”

CITIES AND CLIMATE CHANGE

By 2015, according to UN-Habitat, 952 million people (77 percent of the population) in the developed world will live in urban areas, along with 2.9 billion (48.7 percent) in developing regions.

In the world’s teeming cities, climate change may damage infrastructure and limit access to basic urban services and health care. Most affected are the urban poor — slum dwellers in developing nations.

To bolster climate change preparedness among cities in developing countries, UN-Habitat’s Cities in Climate Change Initiative initially is working with the pilot cities of Esmeraldas, Ecuador; Kampala, Uganda; Maputo, Mozambique; and Sorsogon City, Philippines, to help develop innovative climate change strategies and tools for local governments.

The initiative will help establish adaptation and mitigation policies and strategies, tools, financing mechanisms and partnerships.

For example, Esmeraldas, a coastal city in the northeastern corner of Ecuador, is seen as vulnerable to climate change mainly because of its location. Flooding and landslides in the rainy season and droughts in the dry season are likely to increase.

Initial assessments there found that adaptation to climate change in and around the city calls for a mix of land-use controls, infrastructure modifications, shifts in energy-use patterns, training and improved governance. Infrastructure modifications include building upstream water storage and flood control systems and levees to protect flood-prone neighborhoods. And institutional tools, such as zoning plans, are needed to improve governance and urban management.

In Kampala, the fast-growing capital of Uganda, new settlements, many of them informal, are set up in areas prone to flooding. Heavy reliance on wood and charcoal for heating and cooking contribute to air pollution and deforestation.

Because low- or neutral-energy housing is needed, the initiative is helping develop a housing code on energy efficiency. The city’s ecosystem is under threat from wetland destruction, biodiversity loss and soil erosion. Ecosystem conservation and management are important components of climate change adaptation, and the initiative is analyzing the effects of climate change on women and children.

Also under way are demonstration projects that include city greening, alternative energy briquette use, clean wood fuel use, climate-proofing of houses and buildings and energy-efficient urban transport systems.

According to UN-Habitat, more partner cities for the initiative are emerging in Africa, Latin America and Asia.

Read more: http://www.america.gov/st/energy-english/2010/April/20100406155021lcnirellep0.9101526.html?CP.rss=true#ixzz0kPyZkNF2