A Good Planet is Hard to Find: Celebrating Earth Day 2021

April 22nd, 2021 | Viewpoint

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The theme for Earth Day 2021 is Restore Our Earth™—how natural processes, emerging green technologies, and innovative thinking can restore the world’s ecosystems.

Across JSI, there are efforts to improve the environments in which people live, which is core to improving health and the quality of life. Recognizing the interconnectedness of people, their health, and the environment, whenever possible we integrate our environmental initiatives with broader health and population programs, conservation and water management, sustainable agriculture, livelihoods, and community engagement activities.

Globally, through the USAID Building Healthy Cities (BHC) project, new visions for healthy urban planning, environmental sustainability, and citizen engagement are being explored in four Smart Cities in Asia: Indore, India; Makassar, Indonesia; Kathmandu, Nepal; and Da Nang, Vietnam. Smart Cities use technology to provide services and solve problems, with the main goals of improving policy efficiency, reducing waste and inconvenience, boosting social and economic equality, and maximizing social inclusion. Using dynamic systems maps for each city, BHC documents the context, identifies effective leverage points, and develops recommended actions using input from a wide range of stakeholders and citizen groups. This process has led to a number of activities focused on the environment. In Indore, for example, BHC worked with the city to pilot low-cost air quality sensors in key communities, and trained community members to monitor the resulting data and make changes in their community to reduce air pollution. The sensors identify sources of air pollution and help city and community members know where to make changes to improve air quality, and as a result, people’s health. The project is also revising procurement guidelines to promote fair trade, circular manufacturing, gender parity, and social inclusion.

Environments are not only found in nature but are all the places indoors and outdoors where one lives, works, studies, congregates, and plays. We support healthy communities in which residents and workers can thrive by promoting equitable changes to policies, systems, and environments that are conducive to health. This approach lessens the focus and burden on individuals to adopt healthy behaviors by improving conditions that make healthy living easier. In Lowell, Massachusetts, the CDC-funded Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH LoWELL) initiative is led by the Lowell Community Health Center and driven by the priorities of Cambodian and LatinX residents. Urban farmers from Mill City Grows assist with sustainable agriculture, community gardens, and farmers markets tailored to immigrant cultures. Workplaces are encouraged to promote environments and policies supportive of breastfeeding. The city is designing walking, biking, and public transportation options to support fitness and greater access to resources. These, in addition to medical treatments, are strategies to prevent and control diabetes.

REACH LoWELL and BHC are just two of the many ways JSI supports healthy environments. These efforts demonstrate how policy, urban design, resource management, multi-sector stakeholders, and social inclusion can work together for common environmental good.

A healthy planet is not an option, it is a necessity. How will you help Restore Our Earth?

Written by Liz Creel, Terry Greene, Amanda Pomeroy-Stevens, Kim Farnham Egan

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