Wearing the hat of a health geographer in the neighbourhoods of New Delhi

Placing health:

It is well evident that place can create inequalities in health. The discipline of geographical research in present days is mostly concerned about exploring this relationship between place and health. Although the variation in health and wellbeing of the people may be mostly explained by the individual characteristics (i.e. who lives here?), there is a significant contribution of the contextual factors (i.e. what is the place like?). Apart from the individual compositional factors (such as demographic, behavioural and psychosocial), the contextual factors (such as social, physical and institutional environments) also determine the health outcomes of the people. When exploring the environmental mechanism of place on health, it is imperative to investigate the distribution and concentration of the “pathogenic” (health-damaging) and “salutogenic (health-promoting) factors in the neighbourhood. Existing evidence suggests a skewed distribution of these attributes—affluent neighbourhoods enjoying the influx of salutogenic attributes while the poorer areas are oftentimes drowned in pathogenic environment. 

The density of geocoded media captured during the trip 

In October last year, along with colleagues from SHLC, I got a chance to visit New Delhi, the capital of India. During the week-long stay, I used my hat of a ‘Health Geographer’ to see the type and distribution of visually evident health-impacting environmental factors in different types of neighbourhoods. We walked (see the fate of my shoes in one of the pictures) through the different types of neighbourhoods—from slums to planned and gated areas. While out, I used my GPS enabled smartphone to record the track and took pictures with geocodes. The map below shows the density of geocoded media collected during the whole trip. Using the rich data that was gathered then, this post tries to present the trip in an interactive visual way.

Using the interactive map: Please zoom in to see the different routes we took and click on the images to see my impression.

As previous indications, a clear divide in environmental attributes was visible based on the type of neighbourhood we visited. While slums and areas of urban sprawls had a higher concentration of health-damaging environmental factors, areas in planned settlements had better facilities in their doorsteps. Litter, open sewage, unhygienic trade of food, over-crowding, narrow streets and dusty air (roads too) were the common sights in poorer neighbourhoods. In contrast, greenery, wider streets, managed parks, stand-by security staffs were the views in more affluent neighbourhoods. Interestingly, the encroachment of the street was a common sight in all types of neighbourhoods. Parking motor vehicles in the pavement or vending in those spaces was pushing the pedestrian into the main street. A stark difference was in the availability and access to open/green space. 


The trip was informative and offered me the first-hand experience of the environmental injustice prevalent in different types of neighbourhoods. There was, however, no opportunity to link this observation with the level of health divides between these neighbourhoods. I expect that the next stage of research within SHLC will elucidate the role of these environmental attributes in the geographical inequalities in health.


Thanks to colleagues from NIUA, specially Debolina Kundu and Arvind Kumar Pandey for helping with the field visits. Thanks to Ya Ping Wang, Sohail Ahmed and Gideon Baffoe for agreeing to take extra days to do the visits.

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