Community Resilience and Health

Improving community resilience and well-being by strengthening research and developing tools to increase understanding of interdependent social, natural, and built systems in the Arctic.

Scope of activities

For a community to be resilient, there are many interacting elements including the community’s outlook, governance and leadership structures, interpersonal networks, preparedness, preventive and curative health services, food security, place-based knowledge, and access to resources such as clean air and water, energy, shelter, technology, and transportation. Arctic communities have been resilient in the face of change since time immemorial. Yet, the last half-century has brought changes of unprecedented pace and scale with implications for economies, cultures, the environment, and health.

Rapid warming due to climate change has cascading impacts on human health and wildlife health. Related changes in weather, increased risks from infectious diseases, and toxic algal blooms are all growing threats to social, natural, and built systems. Coupled with these changes are increasing health disparities between Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations. Mega-events, such as the public health emergency created by the COVID-19 pandemic, can impose additional shocks that may result in lasting social and economic changes. While Alaska-based leaders are making progress in identifying urgent health needs, it remains the state with the greatest health security challenges. Taken individually, these various stressors pose formidable challenges for community resilience, health, and well-being. Taken together, combinations of stressors can greatly complicate resilience-building efforts and create difficult decisions about what and how to prioritize.

Thanks to advances in technology and innovations in research methodologies including participatory research and Indigenous approaches such as co-production of knowledge, the circumpolar knowledge base related to community resilience and health will continue to grow over the next five years. These advances will lead to research outcomes that inform agency and management decisions. Facilitated by developments in data management, modeling, observations (both satellite and in situ), and innovations in technology (including advanced computing and machine learning), and other foundational activities, notable improvements are expected in the predictive understanding of stressors, their characteristics, co-occurrence, and expected changes over time, from local to circumpolar scales. Recent research has also demonstrated the contributions to community sustainability and well-being that come with programs advancing cultural heritage, language preservation, and the use of museum and archival collections that promote health and help connect generations in a rapidly changing world.

Advances and new knowledge will lead to an improved understanding of the physical and social impacts of stressors as well as the implications for different community-based solutions. For example, through environmental observations and health surveillance networks, the design and implementation of computational models will strengthen methods for measuring multidimensional threats to community resilience and well-being (e.g., environmental and social changes that impact Arctic communities; energy, food security, and water quality; thawing permafrost and coastal erosion; concerns regarding built systems; and health disparities). Similarly, models can provide critical information to understand the interdependence of human and environmental systems, leading to improved health outcomes and enhanced resilience via a comprehensive methodology, such as the One Health approach, applied to the Arctic. Research will examine the ways that complex global stressors, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change, interface with Arctic community resilience and health.

Furthermore, the equitable inclusion of Indigenous Knowledge holders will strengthen methods for measuring multidimensional threats to community resilience and health, including but not limited to the impacts of sea level rise, coastal erosion, permafrost thaw, and other environmental changes on societies and culture, food security and water quality, and built systems. Improvements in meaningful engagement with Indigenous and local organizations through participatory research includes mutually beneficial research involving co-production throughout the research cycle (such as identifying research questions, conducting research, developing wellness indicators, producing results, and disseminating findings together) will lead to more relevant and timely community-based knowledge that can be used by decision-makers like health services providers and community and civic leaders.

Increased connectivity with other Arctic nations will facilitate stronger information sharing and foster collaborative international research projects that advance understanding of transboundary resilience and health challenges. These expected research developments illustrate the broad scope of progress and its potential to both inform fundamental understanding of these highly complex landscapes and meet the needs of Arctic communities to develop novel solutions in the face of emerging challenges.


Team leaders

Suzanne van Drunick
USEPA Office of Research and Development

David Payer
National Park Service (Website)


Accomplishments

To be added in 2023.