Unplanned urbanization a challenge for public health

PR 1503

On the eve of World Health Day, the World Health Organization urges national governments to invest in pro-poor policies and strategies in order to reduce the urban equity gap. The UN health agency also launched the 1000 cities, 1000 lives campaign to celebrate urban health and urban health champions—persons who have made a difference in their cities, making them more healthy and more livable.

For the first time in history, more than half of the world’s population resides in urban areas. Rapid urbanization is more pronounced in the low- to middle-income countries of South-East Asia. About 34% of the total population of the WHO’s South-East Asia Region is urban. According to UN Habitat, over 40% of the urban population of South Asia live in slums. The urban poor suffer disproportionately from a wide range of diseases and health problems.

“Urbanization is one of the major threats to health in the twenty-first century. Closing the urban equity gap and promoting healthy cities requires urgent action, including the efforts of both rich and poor urban dwellers. To reap the potential benefits from urbanization, we must act collectively”, said Dr. Samlee Plianbangchang, WHO’s Regional Director for South-East Asia.

WHO estimates that every $1 spent on sanitation gives a return of US$ 9.10 in terms of prevention and treatment of illnesses. Improved transportation, infrastructure and greener technologies enhance urban quality of life, including fewer respiratory ailments and accidents and better health for all.

Lack of safe drinking water and sanitation, and pollution from nearby transportation, factories and industrial complexes can harm the health of urban workers and their families. This is partly because of the degraded quality of basic environmental services such as clean air, water and soil. Poor urban dwellers often also lack access to health services, and the cost of such services can itself be impoverishing.

Unplanned urban growth has also exacerbated communicable diseases, including water-borne and food-borne diseases. Diseases like tuberculosis thrive in overcrowded conditions and are exacerbated in dusty environments. Other health threats include diarrhoeal diseases, viral hepatitis, typhoid fever, HIV/AIDS, and vector-borne infectious diseases, especially dengue fever and chikungunya.

The dynamic growth of cities can be an economic engine to lift developing countries out of poverty—but unplanned growth can lead to detrimental health consequences. On World Health Day, WHO is drawing attention to the need for local and national governments to plan urbanization so as to not leave the urban poor and the vulnerable behind.

For more information contact:

Ms Vismita Gupta-Smith
Public Information and Advocacy Officer
WHO South-East Asia Regional Office (SEARO)
New Delhi
Tel: 91-11-23309401
Mobile: +91 9871329861