Updated: 17 May 2020
The indoor heat exposure experienced by residents of urban informal settlements can be dangerously high. Recorded temperatures from urban/metropolitan weather stations likely underestimate actual indoor conditions. Informal settlements can exist in low-income countries as much as high-income countries.
Staying indoors during a heatwave for inhabitants of informal settlements will not be possible, especially during the hottest times of the day, regardless of physical distancing mandates that may be in place due to COVID-19. Additional measures therefore need to be introduced to reduce the spread of COVID-19, while allowing people to leave their homes to seek respite from the heat. Such provisions can include the frequent disinfection of high-frequency touch-points such as public drinking-water taps, or the distribution of face masks.
Access to water is especially crucial during a heatwave. City officials and COVID-19 planning teams should consider increasing the number of standpipes where possible. Other provisions, such as water tankers or temporary water access points, may increase the risk of transmitting COVID-19 in the community (and if used should ensure 0.5mg/Litre free residual chlorine levels). It is therefore critical that all shared water, sanitation and hygiene facilities are cleaned and disinfected frequently and thoroughly. Water contamination in informal settlements is often widespread, and access to clean water is essential to avoid other waterborne diseases on top of COVID-19. Informal settlement-based organizations and associations are important partners to mobilize in this activity. City officials can hire and train residents to oversee the disinfection process.
The residents of informal settlements are not a homogeneous group and the effects of heatwaves and COVID-19 are unevenly distributed across households and neighbourhoods. The capacity of households within informal settlements to respond to increased heat while remaining safe during the COVID-19 pandemic is not equal.
People will take calculated risks to ensure they can continue to meet their basic needs and access essential services (particularly food and water). Lockdowns and/or physical distancing measures will also amplify existing forms of social and economic inequality, which in turn may amplify vulnerability to the combined risks of extreme heat and COVID-19.