Overview

UN-Habitat works to position health outcomes at the centre of urban development efforts and to support cities and partners in developing adequate urban planning systems, processes and tools to achieve healthy cities for all.

Health is influenced by multiple factors. And many of them are outside the control of the health sector. In cities and regions, planning and design play a central role in the prevention of disease and in fostering healthier environments. For example, effective urban design, policies, strategies, and plans lead to cleaner air, cleaner water, safer movement of the population, and better prevention measures to curb the spread of disease. Deliberate action in the planning of cities and territories can contribute directly or indirectly to improve overall health and wellbeing.

The Challenge

Rapid urbanization and absence or inadequacy urban planning can lead to unhealthy environments which sustain infectious diseases (e.g. COVID-19, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, pneumonia, diarrhoea) and non-communicable diseases (heart diseases, respiratory illnesses, obesity, cancers, diabetes, mental health illnesses).

One in four adults and four out of five adolescents globally do not currently meet WHO’s recommendations for physical activity. The global cost of physical inactivity is estimated at USD 54 billion per year in direct health care, with an additional USD 14 billion attributable to lost productivity.

Seven million deaths globally were attributed to the joint effects of household and ambient air pollution in 2016.

Impact

UN-Habitat has reached over
10,000 people
worldwide in the importance of planning for healthy cities and territories
Over
100 case studies
of urban planning contribution to health outcomes have been collected and disseminated.

News and Stories

The joint WHO and UN-Habitat report, integrating health in urban and territorial planning is an important tool for bringing health consideration into urban and territorial planning.

Aksel Jacobsen, State Secretary of International Development, Norway

Related Sustainable Development Goals

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Leaving no one and no place behind

Hover over or click the icons to learn about UN-Habitat's work on social inclusion here.

Planning for healthy cities supports the health and wellbeing of all citizens by enabling the full exercise of their rights to access city services and opportunities, and to be engaged in transforming the city through citizen involvement and community action.

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Building a healthier urban environment specifically benefit women who are often carrying the burden of the care of the ill and recovering family members, losing income and the opportunity to devote time to this task. Often women are also more vulnerable when it comes to exposure to environmental risks. In addition,  the propagation of healthy behaviours, may help in reducing tobacco and gambling addictions, improve nutrition, etc. resulting in more available household income and reduction of domestic violence which all benefit particularly women. Many are the pathways in which the impact of a healthier environment can benefit households and within them the most vulnerable members, the elderly, children and women.

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Planning for healthy cities and territories can support the delivery of national plans to combat communicable and non-communicable diseases and address major public health concerns, such as childhood obesity or elderly social isolation.

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Urban health is essential to support the well-being and resilience of vulnerable sub-population, across the life-course and across socioeconomics and cultural groups and in reducing inequalities, ensuring adequate access to health and healthy environments for people with disabilities. 

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Donors and partners

UN-Habitat’s work on urban health involves collaboration with various partners. Its partnerships with national and sub-national governments, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation (OECD) and Cities Alliance, are vital in the implementation of policy interventions in various countries. Jointly organised events, including policy dialogues, roundtable discussions, networking and training events strengthen these partnerships and promote advocacy in participating countries.

Our Experts

Laura PETRELLA
Chief, Finance and Economy Section
Urban Practices Branch, Global Solutions Division