Climate change will worsen the health risks facing Zimbabwe’s informal workers. Holistic partnerships can promote their health, while also fostering equitable climate responses & stronger livelihoods in cities.

For the attention of: Urban elected officials, utilities providers (especially water, sanitation, and hygiene [WASH] and energy), city planners, international agencies.

The problem: Although there is rising attention to climate change and health in cities, informal workers have been largely overlooked. Globally, two billion people work in the ‘informal economy,’ which encompasses all livelihoods lacking legal recognition or social protections. Many informal workers are also amongst the one billion city dwellers in informal settlements (‘slums’). Informal workers are responding to climate change and other overlapping risks at their homes and workplaces, but measures are usually short-term and insufficiently joined-up.

What we did and why: To help understand informal workers’ health risks in a changing climate, we drew on published evidence from a study in Harare and Masvingo (Zimbabwe) that used a survey and focus groups with waste-pickers and urban agriculture workers. We highlight in our analysis the pivotal role of interrelated occupational threats and low-quality living conditions; heatwaves, water scarcity, and floods are also negatively affecting health and livelihoods. We profile how the study encouraged new collaborations between informal workers and local authorities to tackle such complex challenges.

What our study adds: Climate change will interact with several risks facing informal workers at their homes and workplaces. In the survey (N=418), 56% of informal waste-pickers reported that heat extremes result in shorter working times and lower incomes; 76% of urban farmers already experience water unavailability in heatwaves. Meanwhile, there are gender-inequitable burdens of inadequate energy and water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) at homes and workplaces. More positively, a health lens can help to catalyse action on climate change to improve livelihoods and foster inclusive urbanisation.

Implications for city policy and practice: Urban decision-makers should partner closely with informal workers to generate inclusive, joined-up strategies as follows:

  • Develop farsighted initiatives that can address climate-related, occupational, and environmental risks facing informal workers (e.g., waste-to-energy initiatives, climate-proofed markets)
  • Strengthen assets and seek co-benefits that can enhance health, livelihoods, and informal workers’ responses to climate change
  • Many informal labourers live in informal settlements, so fostering workers’ health and resilience will also require access to improved housing, clean energy, WASH, and other infrastructure.

For further information:

Detailed report from Zimbabwe by TARSC, ZCIEA, and ZCTU: https://bit.ly/3Bhr06P

Policy Brief: https://www.iied.org/21036iied

Final Public Webinar (June 2022): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S5GU7l68uK0

Partner websites: https://www.tarsc.org/ (TARSC), https://www.zciea.org.zw/ (ZCIEA), http://www.zctu.co.zw/ (ZCTU), and https://www.iied.org/addressing-risks-facing-informal-workers (IIED project website)

Full research article: Towards Equitable Climate Change Responses and Informal Workers’ Health in Zimbabwe: An Action-research Case Study by Artwell Kadungure, Rangarirai Machemedze, Wisborn Malaya, Nathan Banda, Rene Loewenson and Alice Sverdlik.