Action Research with informal workers

From Surviving to Thriving: Assessing and Responding to Occupational and Public Health Risks in Informal Settlements and for Informal Workers and the Effects of Climate Change on these Risks: Building Learning from India” 

Project Brief- Urban Health Resource Centre (UHRC) in collaboration with International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and partnership with women’s groups in informal settlements in Indore is implementing an action-research project. The aim is to understand challenges related to health and well-being of informal workers and informal settlement dwellers. 

Project Site: Indore, Madhya Pradesh  


Indian informal workforce contributes 50% of country’s GDP and accounts for >94% of India’s workforce. With rapid urbanisation, slum and urban informal settlement dwellers are the fastest growing segment of India’s population. Urban contribution to India’s GDP is 70-75% according to Barclays 2017 report. International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that 85% of women and 83% of men are in informal urban, employment in India.  

Informal sector populations confront many challenges as they are unseen by most service providers, lack basic infrastructure of paved roads or adequate drainage, face poor living conditions characterised by space congestion, poor sanitation and low access to water. Informal workers face risk of injury, physiological challengeshigh temperatures, and climate change. While policies like the National Urban Health Mission (NUHM) and labour ministry policies have provisions for services and social benefits for informal workers, policy implementation is weak.  

Informal Worker and Settlement Dwellers in Indore

Indore is India’s 14th largest city by population home to nearly 9,00,000 slum populations as estimated by UHRC.  Indore is a successful industrial and commercial hub, home to a very large number of informal workers and informal settlement residents. Seasonal migrants often work at brick kilns and construction sites. With climate change Indore is becoming increasingly drought-prone area and facing severe water stress, putting vulnerable populations at high risk.   

What research is being undertaken?

The study is being conducted with informal workers and informal settlement dwellers of Indore. UHRC is working in partnership with slum-based women’s groups who have gained an intimate knowledge of vulnerable slum clusters from community-driven upgrading and improvement projects in Indore slums.  

The coronavirus pandemic has affected millions of informal sector workers. Through this research, we are also aiming to build our understanding the impacts of COVID-19 induced lockdown on the health and well-being of informal sector workers.  

Using qualitative interviews and key-informant interviews, we are assessing –  

  1. occupational, environmental, and climate related health and well-being risks of informal workers  
  1. What doable approaches are being used and may be used by informal workers and informal settlement dwellers to mitigate risks, overcome challenges and build resilience? 
  1. What are the secondary impacts of COVID-19 on health, food security, nutrition and children’s education and how are informal sector workers and settlement dwellers coping with the situation?    

Sample: The study sample comprises of factory workers, casual workers (daily wage construction workers and peri-urban agricultural workers), home based workers, street vendors, domestic workers, slum youth working in informal sector.  

Consultations with stakeholders, including Government frontline workers from the Dept. of Public Health and Family Welfare and Integrated Child Development Services, elected Ward representatives, women group members and active women from slums and informal settlements are being conducted to understand challenges and possible solutions.  

Our recommendations will be shared with government officials, interdisciplinary researchers and urban practitioners at local, national and global platforms. The findings, advocacy and capacity-building activities will seek to ensure that informal workers can thrive even in the face of environmental, climate-related and occupational health risks in the light of achieving SDGs.  


  1. IIED Project webpage.  
  1. Blog “Multiple housing and climate-related vulnerabilities of informal workers in Indore, India” by Dr Siddharth Agarwal and Kanupriya Kothiwal, Urban Health Resource Centre. 16th December 2021. 
  1. Blog “Street vendors and garbage pickers need protection from climate extremes” by Dr Alice Sverdlik from IIED. 29th September 2021.  
  1. Blog “Unsmart, unsafe cities for informal workers: effective policy change will need better data” by Dr Alice Sverdlik from IIED. 5th April 2019 
  1. Climate change, health and well-being for cities and informal settlements: a panel discussion with Siddharth Agarwal (Urban Health Resource Center), Sari Kovats (London School of Health and Tropical Medicine), and David Satterthwaite (International Institute of Environment and Development) at IIED, London on 9th July 2018.
  2. Technical Report: Agarwal, S., Kothiwal, K., Verma, S. (2022). From risks to resilience: action research into informal workers’ health and wellbeing in Indore, India. IIED, London
  3. Policy Brief: Agarwal, S., Banda, N., Dodman, D., Kadungure, A., Kothiwal, K., Machemedze, R., Malaya, W., Sverdlik, A., Verma, S. (2022). Prioritizing action on health and climate resilience for informal workers. IIED, London.
  4. Webinar: Climate change, health and informal workers – urban challenges and responses from India and Zimbabwe. (June 2022)  Available here
  5. Case Study: Stitching with determination: stories of women garment workers in Indore, India. Available here
  6. Case Study: Resilience through flexibility – the story of peri-urban agricultural workers in India. Available here
  7. From risks to resilience for informal workers – part one. Blog by Siddharth Agarwal & Kanupriya Kothiwal. International Institute of Environment and Development (IIED). Feb 2023.
  8. From risks to resilience for informal workers – part two ‘universal’ access to benefits? Blog by Siddharth Agarwal & Kanupriya Kothiwal. International Institute of Environment and Development (IIED). Feb 2023.
  9. From risks to resilience for informal workers – part three: research to action to address their health priorities. Blog by Siddharth Agarwal & Kanupriya Kothiwal. International Institute of Environment and Development (IIED). March 2023.