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Effects of urbanization on vulnerability to heat-related mortality in urban and rural areas in South Korea: a nationwide district-level time-series study

Michelle L. Bell and 8 other contributors

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    Abstract

    Background Although urbanization is often an important topic in climate change studies, the complex effect of urbanization on heat vulnerability in urban and rural areas has rarely been studied. We investigated the disparate effects of urbanization on heat vulnerability in urban and rural areas, using nationwide data. Methods We collected daily weather data for all 229 administrative districts in South Korea (2011-17). Population density was applied as an urbanization indicator. We calculated the heat-mortality risk using a distributed lag nonlinear model and analysed the relationship with population density. We also examined district characteristics that can be related to the spatial heterogeneity in heat-mortality risk. Results We found a U-shaped association between population density and heat-mortality risk, with the highest risk for rural populations; in urban areas, risk increases with increasing population density. Higher heat-mortality risk was associated with a lower number of hospital beds per person and higher percentage of people requiring recuperation. The association between hospital beds and heat-mortality risk was prominent in high-density urban areas, whereas the association between the percentage of people requiring recuperation and heat-mortality risk was pronounced in rural areas. Conclusions Our findings indicate that the association between population density and heat-mortality risk is different in urban and rural areas, and that district characteristics related to heat-mortality risk also differ by urbanicity. These results can contribute to understanding the complex role of urbanization on heat vulnerability and can provide evidence to policy makers for prioritizing resources.