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WHO launches directory of resources for planning healthy environments

In an effort to address the pressing global challenges from environmental risks, the World Health Organization (WHO) has unveiled a comprehensive directory of resources aimed at guiding urban planners, policymakers and communities towards healthier environments. With around one quarter of human deaths globally attributed to environmental factors, and air pollution associated with 7 million premature deaths annually, prioritizing health in the planning and design of urban spaces has never been more critical. The directory, consisting of nearly 200 open-access resources, serves as a vital online repository which offers invaluable insights and tools to promote the creation of healthier environments and enhance the well-being of communities worldwide.

“This directory represents a thoughtfully compiled collection of resources, bridging the worlds of urban planners and policymakers with the expertise of public health professionals,” said Dr Maria Neira, Director, Department of Environment, Climate Change and Heath, World Health Organization. “All contributors are united by a shared vision: to cultivate healthier environments which foster well-being and promote public health.”

The directory includes resources such as:

  • tools that quantify the health and/or socioeconomic impact of planning and designing urban areas from a health perspective;
  • the description of successful initiatives; and
  • training materials and webinars on urban planning and health

Embracing a multifaceted environmental approach

In the face of mounting evidence, it has become unequivocally clear that the environments in which we live and interact play a pivotal role in shaping our health outcomes.

Globally, an alarming 24% of human deaths are attributed to environmental risks, which could be prevented through healthier environments. These risks encompass a broad array of factors including, but not limited to, air pollution, challenges in waste management, the availability of natural spaces, resilience against the effects of climate change, and access to affordable and nutritious food. Each of these elements characterizes our living spaces, influences our daily behavior, and plays a substantial role in our exposure to health-compromising environmental risks.

Urgent action is needed to reduce air pollution, one of the greatest environmental risks to health associated with 7 million premature deaths annually. The interconnectedness of air pollution with other environmental and social risks highlights the multiple benefits of targeted actions: reducing air pollution not only addresses its direct health impacts but also mitigates related environmental and climate risks.

Health and wellbeing at the center of urban and territorial planning

The way we plan and build our cities, towns or neighborhoods plays a big role in health promotion and disease prevention. Prioritizing health in the planning and design of our living environments is crucial to reducing health risks and improving the well-being of all communities. This health-centric approach in planning is not just an option but a necessity, ensuring that every aspect of urban and territorial development contributes to creating spaces that foster and maintain healthy lives.

The directory of resources for planning healthy environments

The directory builds from the resources included in the Integrating health in urban and territorial planning sourcebook – a collaborative effort by WHO and UN-Habitat – and the publication Supporting a healthy planet, healthy people, and health equity through urban and territorial planning. However, it also extends beyond, incorporating a wealth of additional materials and resources.

The directory is not a static resource; it benefits from ongoing reviews and updates conducted by the WHO Collaborating Center for Health Promotion based at the Center for Global Health at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health (University of Toronto), WHO and UN-Habitat. Thus, the directory’s content aims to remain current and comprehensive, reflecting the latest advances and insights in the field.

To address the challenge of navigating the vast and ever-expanding landscape of resources on health and urban planning, the directory was conceived as a centralized repository. Its primary aim is to aggregate all the resources into a single, accessible platform. Recognizing the difficulties in finding relevant resources, the directory makes it easier for users to find what is needed.

Expanding the accessibility of the directory – multilingual versions

The directory is intended to be useful for actors and decision-makers who have a role in promoting healthy and resilient environments or are concerned with the health of the population. This includes a variety of stakeholders from different sectors such as

  • national governments
  • local authorities
  • public health professionals
  • urban planners and other actors
  • stakeholders involved in urban planning and design
  • civil society.

The directory is accessible in English, French and Spanish.

Salud Urbana en America Latina (SALURBAL) has created the Spanish version, while École des hautes études en santé publique (EHESP) developed the French one, with additional resources in those languages, and expanding the directory’s reach to a broader audience.

Local action for health

In addition to the directory, WHO’s repository on urban health gives access to a broad range of WHO-generated resources to enhance local action for health.

The repository reflects WHO’s renewed commitment to promoting urban health worldwide and includes resources that provide technical support and build capacity, strategic reports and guidelines, health impact assessment tools, and other products relevant to urban health and cities.

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