Social relationships for sustainable environmental solutions

Stronger social ties, healthier societies

Stronger social ties, healthier societies

Environmental interventions in low and middle income countries primarily rely directly on addressing the issue at hand. For example, alternative stoves eliminating cook-stove air pollution, boreholes provide access to water, and alternative drought-or rain-resistant crops grow in climate-change stricken regions. These projects may succeed, but they may also fail. Thus, we know that projects need to be more encompassing in their approach. With the examples above, better solutions could include:

  • explaining the cost-benefit of using a solar stove,
  • creating a water committee within the community to ensure borehole maintenance, or
  • providing recipes on how to integrate these new crops into traditional meals of the region.

But, even with an added component, these projects may continue to experience poor acceptance rates.

That said, I believe one overlooked approach could help; here, I suggest a social aspect that could be integrated within every project. But first, let me discuss culture. In many parts of the world, particularly Sub-Saharan Africa, the family is considered a productive unit. There is less emphasis on the individual and more on the family as a whole, including work group goals. This type of culture is known as a collectivist culture.

The collectivist culture is based on social relationships. Interestingly, research provides evidence of the link between social relationships and health. Social relationships reduce disease risk through personal health behaviors that influence health, mortality, and morbidity.

The collectivist culture is so strong in Sub-Saharan Africa, I believe interventions could be more sustainable if we use this cultural stronghold. We know that individuals with low levels of involvement with relationships are more likely for risk of disease or poor health behaviors than individuals with higher levels of relationships involvement.

So, why not use the social aspect of relationships to adhere our intervention ideas to? This could ensure more sustainable solutions within intervention development in low and middle income countries. Relationships are the tie to procuring a stronghold for sustainable environment-based solutions.

These social ties could influence health behaviors and relay the public health messages that public health practitioners are trying to encourage—avoid cook-stove air pollution, maintain the water project, harvesting any type of crop is better than not having a harvest at all.

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Author: Tara Zolnikov

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