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Reducing Vulnerability to Extreme Heat Through Interdisciplinary Research and Stakeholder Engagement

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Abstract

Extreme heat is a leading cause of weather-related human mortality in the United States and many countries worldwide. To reduce the negative impacts of extreme heat on human health, it is essential to understand which populations are most vulnerable. In this chapter, we discuss the interdisciplinary facets of extreme heat vulnerability, present a conceptual and analytical framework for characterizing and reducing urban vulnerability to extreme heat, and provide an example of an interdisciplinary project that examines current and future extreme heat risk within the context of North American cities. We focus on a science-policy interface of heat-health research by highlighting the stakeholder engagement as a critical component of the entire research process. We conclude with observations on how this research framework and the stakeholder engagement process can be applied to other public health and hazardous weather studies where decision-making is informed by science.

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... Most importantly, it impedes knowledge generation that can be fed into policy development processes. As research has shown, collaboration among researchers, students, and countries, in general, can help improve public health interventions, knowledge sharing and expertise, and can ultimately foster research development within countries and across regions [60]. Furthermore, it can be valuable in exchanging and accelerating heat health policy formulations critical for mitigation and adaptation strategies [42]. ...
... Transdisciplinary partnership seeks to leverage diverse approaches and experiences to integrate and transcend disciplinary bounds to advance scientific knowledge that will tackle pressing social, environmental, and health problems and, more importantly, reduce disparities [62]. Inputs from various stakeholders provide complementary insights and ensure the success and sustainability of efforts to reduce vulnerability to heat stress and mitigate adverse heat-related health outcomes [60]. A good example is the development of a heat health policy for the city of Adelaide in Australia [63], where multi-stakeholder consultations and involvement from different agencies led to the successful development and implementation of the adaptation strategy in response to the societal threats of heatwaves in that region. ...
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Health is affected by the places in which people live, work and interact, yet many epidemiological studies overlook the characteristics of places and instead focus solely on the people who inhabit them. Place-based investigations of disparities in health outcomes are concerned with the healthiness of places and not merely the healthiness of the populations in these places. A place-based approach has been used within medical geography and medical sociology, typically in the study of health differentials associated with long-term, cumulative exposures to a wide range of environmental variables. This approach has rarely been extended, however, to health research that looks at the effects of extreme events (such as industrial accidents or hurricanes). The purpose of this paper is to incorporate a place-based framework into extreme event health research. The paper first discusses methodological considerations for a place-based approach and then illustrates the use of spatial analysis techniques as the first step in identifying place-based risk factors in mortality associated with heat waves. The study centers on St. Louis, Missouri, a city where heat waves are frequent and heat-related mortality is high. The results show that heat-related mortality rates during the most severe heat waves were generally higher in the warmer, less stable and more disadvantaged areas of St. Louis and lower in the cooler and more affluent parts of the city. During the milder years analyzed, there was little evidence of a relationship between place-based characteristics and the distribution of heat-related mortality. These findings about extreme event mortality risk would not have been evident from a population-based analysis. Ongoing dialog between epidemiologists and social scientists can help to bring place into the arena of extreme event research and to increase understanding of the role of place in risk.
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Urban living is the keystone of modern human ecology. Cities have multiplied and expanded rapidly worldwide over the past two centuries. Cities are sources of creativity and technology, and they are the engines for economic growth. However, they are also sources of poverty, inequality, and health hazards from the environment. Urban populations have long been incubators and gateways for infectious diseases. The early industrializing period of unplanned growth and laissez-faire economic activity in cities in industrialized countries has been superseded by the rise of collective management of the urban environment. This occurred in response to environmental blight, increasing literacy, the development of democratic government, and the collective accrual of wealth. In many low-income countries, this process is being slowed by the pressures and priorities of economic globalization. Beyond the traditional risks of diarrhoeal disease and respiratory infections in the urban poor and the adaptation of various vector-borne infections to urbanization, the urban environment poses various physicochemical hazards. These include exposure to lead, air pollution, traffic hazards, and the "urban heat island" amplification of heatwaves. As the number of urban consumers and their material expectations rise and as the use of fossil fuels increases, cities contribute to the large-scale pressures on the biosphere including climate change. We must develop policies that ameliorate the existing, and usually unequally distributed, urban environmental health hazards and larger-scale environmental problems.
Article
Human exposure to excessively warm weather, especially in cities, is an increasingly important public health problem. This study examined heat-related health inequalities within one city in order to understand the relationships between the microclimates of urban neighborhoods, population characteristics, thermal environments that regulate microclimates, and the resources people possess to cope with climatic conditions. A simulation model was used to estimate an outdoor human thermal comfort index (HTCI) as a function of local climate variables collected in 8 diverse city neighborhoods during the summer of 2003 in Phoenix, USA. HTCI is an indicator of heat stress, a condition that can cause illness and death. There were statistically significant differences in temperatures and HTCI between the neighborhoods during the entire summer, which increased during a heat wave period. Lower socioeconomic and ethnic minority groups were more likely to live in warmer neighborhoods with greater exposure to heat stress. High settlement density, sparse vegetation, and having no open space in the neighborhood were significantly correlated with higher temperatures and HTCI. People in warmer neighborhoods were more vulnerable to heat exposure because they had fewer social and material resources to cope with extreme heat. Urban heat island reduction policies should specifically target vulnerable residential areas and take into account equitable distribution and preservation of environmental resources.
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