Researchers receive $2M grant to respond to the impacts of resource development
Posted on June 23, 2017 by Tia Lalani
A team of researchers and partners from across Canada will use the five-year grant to better understand how resource development influences rural, remote, and Indigenous community health.
Although it may seem like the important work of sustainability can be lost in a sea of acronyms, data, and policies implemented at arms-length, a team of Canadian health practitioners and researchers are seeking to change that.
The Alberta Centre for Sustainable Rural Communities, or ACSRC (because you can never get away from a good acronym), housed at the University of Alberta’s Augustana faculty will play a lead role in a newly-formed network which will link the evidence, expertise, and research capacity of Universities to local municipalities to fight against the negative effects of resource development in rural, remote, and Indigenous communities. The Environment, Community, Health Observatory (ECHO) Network will influence decision and policy making at the municipal level in order to result in tangible change.
Funded by a $2 million grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, ECHO is comprised of health professionals and university researchers across Canada, as well as international partners in New Zealand and Australia.
Still in its early stages, the first year of the project will focus on preliminary data collection and populating the observatory itself, in terms of the impacts of resource extraction across different geographical areas. Some of these areas include agriculture, hydroelectricity, oil, forestry, natural gas, and coal mining.
“The intersection between ecosystems, social systems and health systems is what is really at the heart of the ECHO project,” says professor Lars Hallström, director of the ACSRC.
The interdisciplinary nature of the project reaches further than subject matter, as it also seeks to provide a clear linkage between the academic world and non-academic partners in healthcare and community sectors.
“It’s important to focus on these communities because it’s where a lot of the environment, community, and health impacts hit the road,” explains Hallström. “We’re sitting right in the middle of it in rural Alberta, by living in and experiencing the good and the bad, and increasingly coming up against the reality that you cannot separate environmental questions from how we develop economically and industrially, how we develop our social norms and attitudes, and what that means for people’s mental, personal, and community-based health.”
Although the ECHO Network is striving to make an impact, its members will still encounter challenges along the way.
“There are a lot of moving parts. It was a very ambitious proposal with a lot of people and a lot of different dimensions,” Hallström admits. “Although there are ways to narrow things down, we want all of the different parts to speak to each other. We have to balance the importance of having a network with the importance of doing the work, and make sure that being a network doesn’t become a liability to the work that’s being done.”
Working alongside the Battle River Watershed Alliance, Alberta Parks, and Alberta Health Services, the ACSRC’s role within the network will be to balance environmental obligations with public health issues and municipal responsibility in quantifying resource extraction here in Camrose County, and determining the effect it has on our local community. Augustana will also play host to the next ECHO annual meeting in the summer of 2018, which will help solidify the knowledge gained over the last year, as well as the future direction of the project.
“The key message is that the observatory is not just there to watch,” Hallström explains. “As we take notice, we have an obligation to support action—it really is about finding a way for this team to support people, sometimes at a very local level, and how they are dealing with understanding and working through the implications of being part of different kinds of resource extraction. The promise through the grant to the federal government is that we believe, and the reviewers agreed, that we’ll be able to make some changes happen.”
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