Background, Aims & Rationale - Environmental Health Challenges in Cities

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Figure 1: Environmental health challenges in cities

This page outlines a proposal for interested international research groups, to form an umbrella consortium to coordinate their activities in environmental health and sustainable development that focus on the assessment and reduction of the health risks and impacts of climate change, weather extremes, air pollution and other forms of environmental contamination in urban areas. This consortium on urban environmental health and sustainability will facilitate international research collaborations, enhance scientific understanding (notably by improving research methods and reducing uncertainty), identify funding sources and opportunities, enhance opportunities for environmental and public health training and capacity building, and disseminate research outcomes to key stakeholders.


The overall aim of the Healthy-Polis consortium is to help protect public health by promoting multi-disciplinary policy relevant research on urban environmental health and sustainability, improving methodologies for health risk assessment, facilitating international collaboration (including standardisation of research methods), contributing to the research training of scientists and students, and engaging with key stakeholders in Government, local authorities, international organisations (e.g. WHO and WMO), industry and academia.

Scope of Research & Capacity Building

 Health effects of climate change  Environmental & public health
 Sustainable built environment & urban vegetation  Environmental exposure assessment
 Sustainable transport  Environmental epidemiology & toxicology
 Urban air pollution  Risk management
 Indoor environmental quality  Health Systems Analysis
 Water quality & provision  Health Impact Assessment
 Food quality & provision  Sustainable urban planning
 Waste minimisation and recycling  Sociology of consumption
 Soil and groundwater decontamination  Urban climatology
 Energy generation (including microgeneration)  Urban planning
 Weather extremes (heatwaves, floods/droughts)  Transport management
 Climate change mitigation (health co-benefits)  Waste Management
 Climate change adaptation & community resilience  Multi-Criteria Decision Analysis
 Environmental education & communication  Life Cycle Analysis
 Urban heat islands
 Environmental engineering


The rationale for forming Healthy-Polis is summarised in the points below:
  • Rapidly increasing urbanisation, especially in the Asia-Pacific region, is stretching resources and infrastructure, and threatening environmental quality.

  • Densely populated urban areas in Europe are facing environmental health challenges, including air pollution, and contamination of water and soil.

  • Sprawling urban areas in Australia are contributing to traffic congestion, air pollution and long commuting times affecting public health and productivity. At the same time, poorly planned urban infill reduces quality of life and intensifies urban heat islands.

  • Climate change is likely to aggravate existing health risks in urban areas by increasing the frequency and severity of extreme events such as heatwaves, droughts and floods.

  • The prevalence of “lifestyle” diseases, such as certain cancers and obesity, have substantially increased in recent decades in both developed and developing countries.

  • Climate change mitigation and adaptation policies can provide a range of health co-benefits associated with active transport, low carbon buildings and sustainable food consumption.

  • Cities are complex systems that need systems-based interdisciplinary approaches to research.

  • Methodological innovation and standardisation across countries are needed to address complex environmental health challenges and reduce uncertainty (e.g. associated with environmental health data, and epidemiological and risk assessment methods).

  • Test-beds and case-studies from different cities can promote best practice in environmental health research and application.

  • International collaborations can provide training opportunities and promote capacity building in rapidly urbanizing countries.

Healthy Polis,
23 Oct 2013, 03:39