Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences - Earth Observation Lab


Informal settlements, economic and environmental change, and public health - Strategies to improve the quality of life in Dhaka

Project period: 12/2006 - 04/2014

Description of the project

The INNOVATE project centred around the informal settlements of Dhaka and focused on four interwoven topics of vital relevance for the future development of the megacity of Dhaka, Bangladesh: First, climatologic and air pollution effects from the local to global scale; second, socioeconomic development, limitations, and improvement strategies; third, informal growth of settlement structures, and fourth, public health issues related to climate and air pollution, socioeconomic factors, and living conditions. The research was undertaken in a spatially explicit way, linked in with remote sensing derived meta-indicators, and integrated via GIS-based modelling approaches. As local effects were embedded in a multiscale framework, we aimed at providing a focus on public health as to derive relevant indicators in the context of global, regional, and local driving forces. On the one hand, results were intended to facilitate integrated modelling approaches allowing for future perspectives in the light of relevant processes in the Dhaka context. On the other hand, indicator-based and spatially explicit explanation pathways were designed to open up the opportunity to transfer the result to other megacities. Socio-ecological aspects were considered on spatial and temporal scales, allowing us to contribute new findings to the scientific discussion.


Urbanization and slum development

  • The urbanized area of Dhaka underwent a profound expansion towards the north of the city at the expense of prime agricultural areas and wetlands. Built-up areas increased by 6.3% annually between 1990 and 2000 and by 7% annually between 2000 and 2006.
  • Dhaka’s slum settlements grew 11.73 % in only four years from 23.01 km2 in 2006 to 25.71 km2 in 2010 (cf. Figure).
Socioeconomic development
  • More than 80% of Dhaka’s adult slum dwellers were engaged in the informal economy, which provided a means of survival for a substantial section of the workforce.
  • Informality served as a vital purpose in trust-building processes, innovation and industrial governance. Informal dynamics were essential, not just for industries in emerging markets but also for global value chains.
  • Despite temporary benefits for local producers, the adoption of particularly illicit practices kept producers trapped in captive relationships, thereby reinforcing power asymmetries.
  • The informal economy was often associated with unfavourable environments with regard to working and living conditions, pollutants, discrimination, exploitation, income, occupational safety, and legal and social security.
Climate effects, socio-ecological factors and public health
  • Climate and weather had profound effects on human health and well-being.
  • The magnitude of temperature effect and the shape of the atmosphere-mortality relationship were determined by non-atmospheric influences such as socioeconomic status, human behavior, or the spatial characteristics of an area.
  • Mortality was highest during the cold season but a secondary summer maximum was observed particularly in urban areas and in areas with a high socioeconomic status.
  • Urban slum dwellers were most vulnerable in terms of poor health outcomes and risk factors as compared to non-slum urban or rural residents.
  • Urban slum residents were mostly migrants with low socio-economic background that lived in substandard houses.
  • Other factors like limited income, environmental stressors, cultural diversity and social isolation also affected the health of the slum dwellers.
  • Slum dwellers suffered more from poor mental health as they were highly exposed to adverse physical and working conditions in the city as compared to non-slum urban or rural dwellers.
  • Poor mental health was prevalent among the adult population and was significantly associated with flood risk and other factors such as selected features of the natural environment, sanitation, housing quality, sufficiency and durability.
  • We could further show that mental health at one location was spatially interacting with the mental health and health determining factors prevalent at neighboring locations.

Map of Dhaka

Figure: Map showing the generated shapefiles of Dhaka slums for 2010.
Gruebner, O., Sachs, J., Nockert, A., Frings, M., Khan, M. H., Lakes, T., & Hostert, P. (2014). Mapping the Slums of Dhaka from 2006 to 2010, 2014, 1–7. doi:10.1155/2014/172182

Publications (pdf)

Lab and other research staff members involved
Project websites

Website of the DFG Research program:

Available spatial Information generated by INNOVATE:

Website of the summer school program: Spatial Epidemiology, Climate and Health: Concepts and Modeling that evolved out of INNOVATE:


Department of Geography and Environment (Dhaka University)


The INNOVATE project was funded under the priority Program 1233 "Megacities-Megachallenge - Informal Dynamics of Global Change", by the German Research Foundation (DFG).