A planetary health model for reducing exposure to faecal contamination in urban informal settlements: Baseline findings from Makassar, Indonesia

Environ Int. 2021 Oct:155:106679. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2021.106679. Epub 2021 Jun 12.


Background: The intense interactions between people, animals and environmental systems in urban informal settlements compromise human and environmental health. Inadequate water and sanitation services, compounded by exposure to flooding and climate change risks, expose inhabitants to environmental contamination causing poor health and wellbeing and degrading ecosystems. However, the exact nature and full scope of risks and exposure pathways between human health and the environment in informal settlements are uncertain. Existing models are limited to microbiological linkages related to faecal-oral exposures at the individual level, and do not account for a broader range of human-environmental variables and interactions that affect population health and wellbeing.

Methods: We undertook a 12-month health and environmental assessment in 12 flood-prone informal settlements in Makassar, Indonesia. We obtained caregiver-reported health data, anthropometric measurements, stool and blood samples from children < 5 years, and health and wellbeing data for children 5-14 years and adult respondents. We collected environmental data including temperature, mosquito and rat species abundance, and water and sediment samples. Demographic, built environment and household asset data were also collected. We combined our data with existing literature to generate a novel planetary health model of health and environment in informal settlements.

Results: Across the 12 settlements, 593 households and 2764 participants were enrolled. Two-thirds (64·1%) of all houses (26·3-82·7% per settlement) had formal land tenure documentation. Cough, fever and diarrhoea in the week prior to the survey were reported among an average of 34.3%, 26.9% and 9.7% of children aged < 5 years, respectively; although proportions varied over time, prevalence among these youngest children was consistently higher than among children 5-14 years or adult respondents. Among children < 5 years, 44·3% experienced stunting, 41·1% underweight, 12.4% wasting, and 26.5% were anaemic. There was self- or carer-reported poor mental health among 16.6% of children aged 5-14 years and 13.9% of adult respondents. Rates of potential risky exposures from swimming in waterways, eating uncooked produce, and eating soil or dirt were high, as were exposures to flooding and livestock. Just over one third of households (35.3%) had access to municipal water, and contamination of well water with E. coli and nitrogen species was common. Most (79·5%) houses had an in-house toilet, but no houses were connected to a piped sewer network or safe, properly constructed septic tank. Median monthly settlement outdoor temperatures ranged from 26·2 °C to 29.3 °C, and were on average, 1·1 °C warmer inside houses than outside. Mosquito density varied over time, with Culex quinquefasciatus accounting for 94·7% of species. Framed by a planetary health lens, our model includes four thematic domains: (1) the physical/built environment; (2) the ecological environment; (3) human health; and (4) socio-economic wellbeing, and is structured at individual, household, settlement, and city/beyond spatial scales.

Conclusions: Our planetary health model includes key risk factors and faecal-oral exposure pathways but extends beyond conventional microbiological faecal-oral enteropathogen exposure pathways to comprehensively account for a wider range of variables affecting health in urban informal settlements. It includes broader ecological interconnections and planetary health-related variables at the household, settlement and city levels. It proposes a composite framework of markers to assess water and sanitation challenges and flood risks in urban informal settlements for optimal design and monitoring of interventions.

Keywords: Faecal-oral exposure; Indonesia; Informal settlements; Makassar; Planetary health; RISE; Urban; WASH.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Ecosystem*
  • Escherichia coli*
  • Humans
  • Indonesia
  • Rats
  • Sanitation
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Urban Population