The Hauts-de-France Region

The SIGLES programme has mainly been developed in the Hauts-de-France region. The Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie is a densely populated area with a highly contrasting land use that includes urban, industrial and rural environments. The strong degradation of the environment in this region and its poor health indicators, along with the high levels of social precarity in some areas make it a suitable location for the study of territorial inequalities in environmental health.


A densely populated region with stark contrasts between urban and rural areas

The Hauts-de-France region is the third most populated region of France, with a total of 6,007 million inhabitants (9% of the population of mainland France) spread over 3836 towns as of the 1st January 2015. This population density of 189 habitants per km² is above the national average.

In the Nord-Pas-de-Calais, the main urban centres such as Lille, the ex-coal mining areas
and the sea port areas are very different from the rural areas in the south and west of the region. Picardie is characterised by urban centres where the majority of the population live, such as Amiens, Creil, Saint-Quentin and Soissons. The remainder of the area is mainly rural.

Carte de la densité de population par commune en 2012 pour la région des Heuts-de-France.

Population density in the Hauts-de-France region  (source: Atlas de la nouvelle région Nord-Pas-De-Calais-Picardie)



The slowest human development in France, with regional blackspots

The Hauts-de-France region has the weakest human development in mainland France. The Human Development Index (HDI4) considers three main dimensions: the capacity to enjoy a long and healthy life, obtain an education and knowledge, and have access to the necessary material ressources to ensure a decent standard of living.

According to the ORS, life expectancy in this region is the lowest in mainland France, i.e. 76 years for men and 83 for women in 2012 compared to a national average of 78.5 and 85 years, respectively. There is a significant global excess mortality rate of 21% across all age groups in the region, climbing to 30% for deaths before the age of 65. This value places the Hauts-de-France region as the worst French region for death rates. This premature excess mortality can even reach critical values of 68% and 71% for respiratory conditions and diabetes mellitus. Within the region, a particularly high rate of premature mortality is observed in populations living in territories around the ex-mining areas when compared to the average regional values. However, the state of health for the southern territories of this region is close to the national average.

In social and economic terms, the Hauts-de-France region has the highest levels of poverty and unemployment in mainland France. The average annual income is also lower than in all the other regions, with 16 797 € in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais and 18 332€ in Picardie, compared to a national mainland average of 19 218€.  There are wide territorial differences in IDH4 across the region, with a strong development in areas surrounding large cities and towns such as Lille, Amiens, Arras and Creil, whilst development is very slow in the ex-mining areas and the eastern rural areas of the region.

Carte de l'Indice de Développement Humain (IDH-4) en 2010 par commune pour la région des Hauts-de-France.

HDI4 in the Hauts-de-France region (source: Atlas de la nouvelle région Nord-Pas-De-Calais-Picardie)



An environmental burden with multiples sources

The environment of the Nord-Pas-de-Calais reflects the industrial past of this region, where half of the industrial wasteland in France is located. There are 669 sites listed in BASOL in 2016, making this the region with the highest density of polluted or potentially polluted sites and soils in France. These sites are mainly grouped together in the urban areas of Lille – Roubaix – Tourcoing, Valenciennes and the mining area. This density is lower in Picardy, where 252 sites are listed in BASOL.

The number of industrial sites currently in operation is still high in the Hauts-de-France region, with nearly 3,200 Installations Classified for the Protection of the Environment (ICPE) which are subject to administrative autorisation and 151 sites classified SEVESO, the majority of which are located on the Dunkerque coast.

In the aquatic environment, the physico-chemical and biological quality of groundwater and higher water is a cause for concern, and the water bodies can be affected by all types of pollution. Only 26% of the surface water bodies in the Artois Picardie basin were in good ecological condition in 2013. The Flanders sector is particularly vulnerable to pollution by pesticides and nitrates, due to the contact between the groundwater proximity to the surface. In the Artois Picardie basin, groundwater is used to provide 96% of the drinking water, making its quality a key public health issue.

Air pollution is high in this region due to the multiple sources of pollutants produced locally (industries, major roads, high habitat density and large crop areas) and in neighbouring areas (maritime traffic, United Kingdom, Eastern Europe). The entire Nord-Pas-de-Calais territory is also the subject of an Atmospheric Protection Plan. The quantitative health impact assessment conducted by Public Health France over the 2007-2008 period revealed a global exposure of the regional population to average atmospheric fine particle concentrations (PM2.5) ranging between 11 and 17 μg / m3, thus exceeding the threshold recommended by the World Health Organization (10 μg / m3). The highest concentrations (above 15 μg / m3) were observed in the most highly urbanized areas, i.e. around the cities of Dunkerque, Lille, Valenciennes, Douai, Lens, Arras and Saint-Quentin.

Exposure to air pollutants promotes the development of chronic diseases, which can lead to death. More than 6,500 deaths a year are linked to air pollution in the Hauts-de-France region. This represents 13% of regional mortality, and a 16-month reduction in life expectancy. This number of deaths could be halved if pollution levels were brought down to the WHO recommended threshold.

Carte des concentrations moyennes annuelles en PM2,5 pour la région des Hauts-de-France.

Average annual concentrations in PM2.5