Health and wellbeing in the changing urban environment: A systems approach – draft paper

Fourth International Council Science Unions Science Planning Group, Regional Committee for Asia and the Pacific Science Plan, Health and Wellbeing in the Changing Urban Environment: A Systems Approach

The Asia-Pacific region is substantially urban, 45% of the population now resides in urban areas. Urbanization is increasing rapidly, with more than 40 million people being added each year. Moreover, 50% of these people are below 25 years of age.

The region faces the double burden of existing infectious diseases and the emerging life style diseases associated with rising incomes. The promise of greater opportunities in cities is accompanied by changing aspirations of people. Policy makers need to take into account the growing material aspirations of the people while planning developmental activities with improved environmental safe guards. Scientists have an important role in the development of new knowledge to inform this decision making. Total wellbeing involves complex interactions of multiple determinants, and systems approach can improve understanding of the interplay between these determinants and suggest practical approaches. Countries in this region range from developed (e.g. Australia, Japan, the Republic of Korea), to emerging economies (e.g. China, India) to low income nations. The region also has diverse governance systems varying from monarchies, socialist regimes and democracies.

Combining this with differing expertise for undertaking complex analysis, we see that the approach to understanding the complex interactions involved in total wellbeing should vary throughout the region.

Acknowledging the diversity in expertise and data availability between countries, this plan strives for feasible and implementable approaches that could be initiated without delay. Capacity building would be developed around a major activity in the region where policy makers, civil society, scientists, administrators and people from informal sectors need to interact and understand the strength and weaknesses of each individual approach, and to see how that understanding improves through a systems process. Data collection and access will be essential for this analysis. A fast growing city and an institution will be identified in the first phase to initiate the systems thinking process.

New methodologies need to be sensitive and inclusive to be persuasive and successful. Both the people and the policy makers need to be brought on board early to translate systems research into action. The plan includes a number of case studies to illustrate the added value of systems approaches. The issues addressed in these case studies include transport, waste management, health consequences of informal settlements, and growth of new cities in the region.

Concurrently efforts should be initiated to identify international and regional collaborating centres that can execute a systems analysis approach and mathematical modelling on any of the issues identified above. It is anticipated that available funding will increase as the new paradigm is more widely recognised.

This is a draft and comments are welcome.