Cool Infrastructures: Life With Heat in the Off Grid City.

This research is a collaboration between Institut Teknologi Bandung, University of Edinburgh, Indian Institute of Technology Hyderabad, Ludwig Maximillians University Munich, Institute of Business Administration Karachi, Fondation Paul Ango Ela, and Nanyang Technological University

Cool Infrastructures: Life With Heat in the Off Grid City.


Rising temperatures in cities make access to cool infrastructures a global challenge. The UN’s ‘Cooling for All’ coalition
estimates that 1.1 billion people worldwide have little or no access to cooling to protect them against extreme heat . Those
defined as most at risk include 630 million people across South Asia, South East Asia and Sub Saharan Africa who live in
poor quality housing on low incomes, with limited, intermittent or insecure access to electricity and few if any electrical
cooling appliances. Current global and national frameworks for action on heat in global cities categorise the negative
effects of heat on these urban residents as either a public health issue (i.e. leading to heat illness, dehydration and
disease) or an economic issue (i.e. leading to a decline in employment, worker productivity and output). Yet this
categorisation significantly limits the way that frameworks for action on heat account for socio-economic inequality and
In some countries, like India and Pakistan, international and national frameworks for responding to extreme heat in cities
have led to urban heat action plans and public awareness raising. However, action on overheating by city planners and
policy makers remains typically top-down and technology driven; frequently challenged by silo-ed agendas, unexamined
assumptions about energy cultures and practices, and the vulnerabilities of the poorest groups. There have been no
systematic, comparative attempts to document how people living in contexts of urban poverty manage heat or meet their
needs for cool food, water and space. As a result, there is little evidence about whether current strategies are a good fit for
the contexts in which they are deployed.
Over 36 months, this project will put ‘access to cooling’ at the centre of a major new interdisciplinary and comparative study of human-infrastructure interactions in ‘the off-grid city’. The projected effects of 2-4 degrees C global heating on cities make the impact of uneven grids for energy, water and transportation on cool infrastructures and practices an urgent arena for scholarship. Against this backdrop, human-centred approaches to the study of energy infrastructures have the potential to make a major contribution to action on overheating by transforming the way cooling needs and capacities are
understood at the global, national and city level; by establishing cooling as social as well as technical; and by promoting
sustainable interventions.
Our research will take place in four cities – Hyderabad (India), Karachi (Pakistan), Yaoundé (Cameroon) and Jakarta
(Indonesia) – enabling us to develop the first globally comparative study of cool infrastructures across the Global South.
These four cities are critical global sites for research on heat and cooling. India, Pakistan and Indonesia are home to three
of the nine largest low income urban populations in the world currently facing heat related risks. Cameroon is home to two of the twelve fastest growing urban populations facing heat related risks in Sub Saharan Africa. In each location, postcolonial patterns of urban growth, increasing population density, and pressures on infrastructures for water and energy are compounding the effect of ‘urban heat islands’, exacerbating the risks from heat for marginalised people, especially women, and shaping the specific context in which people negotiate access to cooling. Comparative research will allow us to bring these practices into relief, whilst building new South-South partnerships between cities (like Karachi and Hyderabad) in which extreme heat is attracting urgent attention in the present and cities (like Jakarta, Yaoundé) in which action on extreme heat is being deferred into the future.


1) Increase access to affordable, sustainable cooling for the most marginalised urban residents in four cities by making
‘cool infrastructures’ a key component of national and international frameworks for action on extreme heat.
2) Transform how national and international actors understand the cooling needs and capacities of marginalised women
and men living in urban energy poverty by generating and disseminating new data and evidence.
3) Enhance research capacity to address challenges of cooling in four DAC list countries.

To realise these aims we will:

  • Build sustained partnerships for knowledge exchange and impact with municipal authorities, community groups and civil society organisations in Hyderabad, Karachi, Yaoundé and Jakarta; building strong, international and interdisciplinary partnerships for collaborative research; and facilitating dialogue on city level heat action plans between communities, civil society organisations, international and national NGOs, UN bodies (via the UN’s Cooling for All Secretariat), private sector actors, urban planners, policy makers and researchers.
  • Design research methods and an analytical framework for the collection, visualisation, sharing and comparative analysis of qualitative data on cooling with low income urban residents living with no or precarious access to electricity in Hyderabad, Karachi, Yaoundé and Jakarta.
  • Generate contextually rich urban case studies of heat and intersectional inequality, cool infrastructures, and thermal
    practices in Hyderabad, Karachi, Yaoundé and Jakarta to evidence and support policy and programming alternatives,
    engineering solutions and/or social innovations.
  • Produce open access research outputs that communicate key findings clearly and accessibly, mainstream critical social science approaches to energy policy that go beyond top-down, technology-driven responses to overheating in cities, inform a human-centred, bottom-up approach to cooling, and make a contribution to the theorization of cities from the South.
  • Translate and integrate research findings into a gender sensitive methodology for assessing and forecasting of
    vulnerability to heat risk in cities; a social practice based needs assessment tool for use by international, national and
    regional organisations working to accelerate ‘access to cooling’; a digital archive, catalogue and exhibition of vernacular cooling technologies’ and a programme of face to face and online courses aimed at building the capacity of planners, practitioners and designers to account for the social aspects of cooling.


Over 36 months, this project will put ‘access to cooling’ at the centre of a major new interdisciplinary and comparative study of human-infrastructure interactions in ‘the off-grid city’. Located at the intersection of the social sciences, design and engineering this project brings together an interdisciplinary team of investigators. We comprise three urban geographers, two science/technology studies scholars, two engineers, and two social anthropologists. Each of us makes a specific contribution to the project either by leading a cross cutting research method or theme or by co-ordinating city based research activities. Together, we set out to establish a ‘human-centred’ approach to cooling, generating insights that would not be possible working in isolation.
To this end we aim to produce a series of open access research outputs that communicate key findings clearly and
accessibly that go beyond top-down, technology-driven responses to overheating in cities, inform a human-centred,
bottom-up approach to cooling, and make a contribution to the theorisation of cities from the South.
Our key academic beneficiaries are established scholars, early career researchers and doctoral students engaged with
empirical and theoretical debates about urban infrastructure, energy systems, and heat in cities across the Global South.
These beneficiaries span the social sciences (anthropology, geography, sociology, development studies, science and
technology studies, urban studies); energy research (energy policy, environmental studies); design (design theory), and
engineering (energy systems, heat modelling).
This research project sets out to fill specific gaps in evidence and data on cooling in India, Pakistan, Cameroon and
Indonesia, as well as globally. The research design is organised around three main research questions. Each question is
anchored in theoretical debates and scholarship.
Question 1: How does heat help us to understand and analyse social and economic inequality, and differential outcomes
for women, in the off grid city? Literature and debates on heat, inequality and gender
Question 2: Cool What is the specific configuration of systems, materials, technologies, capacities, relationships, and
knowledge through which marginalised urban residents currently meet their needs for cooling in the off-grid city? Literature and debates on urban infrastructures in the global south.
Question 3: How do the thermal practices of marginalised urban residents help us to rethink needs, capacities and priorities

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