Climate Change and Urban Adaptation in Developing Countries

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(May 2009) The world is facing inevitable effects of climate change at the same time that the population is increasingly concentrated in urban areas. Climate change brings specific risks for the health and livelihoods of densely settled populations. Access to clean water, for example, can be disrupted during a flood, leading to the rapid spread of disease and often the loss of lives and homes. A severe heat wave, as occurred in Europe in 2003, can be confounded by urban heat-island effects, and can threaten the lives of elderly and other vulnerable people in urban areas. Enough is already known about the impact of heat waves, floods, hurricanes, and land slides on urban populations to begin developing the core elements of such urban adaptation strategies.

Most of the world’s urban population lives in less developed countries, often in cities with inadequate infrastructures. In fact, smaller cities and towns in these countries—which tend to have weaker infrastructures than large cities—are growing the fastest. Many cities are located along coastal areas and in locations vulnerable to severe damage from storms or a rise in sea level. The urban poor tend to live in neighborhoods most at risk.

On May 14, demographic and environmental experts discussed these issues at the symposium “Climate Change and Urban Adaptation: Managing Unavoidable Health Risks in Developing Countries” held at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. The symposium was jointly sponsored by the Johns Hopkins University Population Center and the Population Reference Bureau.

Moderator: Jason Bremner, program director Population, Health, and Environment, Population Reference Bureau

Mark Montgomery,
professor, Stony Brook University and senior associate, Population Council
Patricia Romero Lankao, social scientist and deputy director, Institute for the Study of Society and the Environment, National Center for Atmospheric Research

John Furlow,
climate change specialist, USAID Washington Climate Change Team
Fariyal Fikree, senior program director, Global Health, Population Reference Bureau