Dr. Margot Parkes is an Associate Professor for the School of Health Sciences at UNBC. She is also the Canada Research Chair in Health, Ecosystems and Society.
Dr. Parkes will be leading a national research project over the next 5 years, thanks to a $2 million grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.
Dr. Parkes is joined by a team of over 60 partners and researchers from BC, Alberta and New Brunswick. The ECHO Network (Environment, Community, Health Observatory) will look into the impacts of resource development on health, environment and community…with a focus on rural areas.
While Dr. Parkes recognizes the importance of resource development to local economies, she says the project will look into ways of mitigating some of the negative impacts. “Some types of resource development have very overt positive impacts. It’s understanding how to enhance the positive and to respond in a better, more integrative way to some of the things that might be challenges.”
One of those challenges is the affect repeated resource extraction has over time on peoples mental health. “When you talk about resource extraction and development, quite often health as a whole is missing,” says Dr. Henry Harder, the Dr. Donald B. Rix BC Leadership Chair and the Aboriginal Environmental Health Professor at UNBC. “In isolated communities — like Indigenous communities–quite often they have had a relocation happening. They have had a mine happening, they have had forestry happening. How is that impacting their well-being? Particularly their mental well-being?”
Northern Health is an important partner. The Health and Resource Development Office has been looking into industry impacts on health for the last 3 years. “What we see is we can see impacts to populations because of community stresses and stressors on our infrastructure. Whether it’s migrant populations, or even the ‘bust phenomenon’ where our economy drops,” says Dr. Sandra Allison, the Chief Medical Officer of Northern Health and the Co-chair of the research project. “We also see impacts of emissions and exposures. That is something that people are very concerned about when we talk about environmental health. What’s in the air? What’s in the soil? What’s in the water? The last area of work is related to our health system and our health services. When you have large migratory populations, they can really impact our health services.”
Dr. Parkes says the project is not just about research, it’s about taking action. “We have decision makers and partners who are involved in actions and decisions from the beginning. So they are designing a project that will help to reach their needs.”