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Urban Health Risks in Latin America


We explored whether the health risks related to air pollution and temperature extremes are spatially and socioeconomically differentiated within three Latin American cities: Bogota, Colombia, Mexico City, Mexico, and Santiago, Chile. Based on a theoretical review of three relevant approaches to risk analysis (risk society, environmental justice, and urban vulnerability as impact), we hypothesize that health risks from exposure to air pollution and temperature in these cities do not necessarily depend on socio-economic inequalities1.

Methods and Tools

To test this hypothesis, we gathered, validated, and analyzed temperature, air pollution, mortality and socioeconomic vulnerability data from the three study cities.We used Time Series Analysis and GLM with Poisson log-linear distribution to identify the characteristics of and interactions among hazards, exposure and health impacts at the municipality and city level. We also tested the statistical correlations of exposure to major air pollutants and human mortality with socio-economic vulnerability to examine whether municipalities with different vulnerability levels can be differentiated with respect to health risks at the municipality and city level.

Key Messages

Our results show the association between air pollution levels and socioeconomic vulnerabilities did not always correlate within the study cities. Furthermore, the spatial differences in socioeconomic vulnerabilities within cities do not necessarily correspond with the spatial distribution of health impacts. The present study improves our understanding of the multifaceted nature of health risks and vulnerabilities associated with global environmental change. The findings suggest that health risks from atmospheric conditions and pollutants exist without boundaries or social distinctions, even exhibiting characteristics of a boomerang effect (i.e. affecting rich and poor alike) on a smaller scale such as areas within urban regions2.

Barriers and Challenges

Given the complexity of this kind of interdisciplinary research, it has proven difficult to fully explore these issues across different scales.We used human mortality, a severe impact, to measure health risks from air pollution and extreme temperatures. Public health data of better quality (e.g.morbidity and hospital visits) are needed for future research to advance our understanding of the nature of health risks related to climate hazards.

Case sites

Bogota, Colombia; Mexico City, Mexico; and Santiago, Chile.

Partners Involved

This paper is the primary outcome of the project Adaptation to the Health Impacts of Air Pollution and Climate Extremes in Latin American Cities (ADAPTE) that investigates the health risks from exposure to climate variability and air pollution in major Latin American cities.

ADAPTE has been supported by the Inter American Institute of Global Change Research (IAI) SGP-HD 013 and the National Science Foundation (NSF), and includes the following participants:

1. Patricia Romero-Lankao, Hua Qin, Mercy Borbor-Cordova, Melissa Haeffner, Sara Hughes, Olga Wilhelmi, Steve Sain, Raphael Nawrotzky, Kevin Sampson (National Center for Atmospheric Research , Boulder, USA);

2. Eduardo Behrenz, Daniela Parra (Universidad de los Andes, Bogotá, Colombia);

3. Alejandro Leon, Patricia Matus, Paulina Aldunce, Karla Caneo (Universidad de Chile, Santiago, Chile);

4. Laura Dawidowski, Rosana Abrutsky (Comisión Nacional de Energía Atómica (CNEA), Buenos Aires, Argentina);

5. Griselda Günther (Autonomous Metropolitan University (UAM), Mexico City, Mexico).


1. Romero-Lankao, P. et al, ADAPTE: A tale of diverse teams coming together to do issue-driven interdisciplinary research, Environ. Sc. Policy (2012), doi: 10/1016/j.envsci.2011.12.003.

2. Romero-Lankao, P., et al., Exploration of health risks related to air pollution and temperature in three Latin American cicties, Social Science & Medicine(2013),

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