Professor’s research inspires conference theme

A York professor’s groundbreaking research has inspired the theme of an international conference focused on improving the health of the world’s poor. Faculty of Environmental Studies Professor Martin Bunch (right) arrived this week in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India to attend the 3rd International Conference on Environment & Health (ICEH), Dec.15-17. The theme of this year’s conference – Urban Planning & Environmental Management for Human Health – is based on Bunch’s current project – An Adaptive Ecosystem Approach to Managing Urban Areas for Human Health. The project is funded by the Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC).


Above: The plight of the urban poor of Chennai, India is the focus of Bunch’s research.

Bunch began his research in Chennai while doing his master’s degree and it has become central to his current activities. Since 1993, he has trekked to India to research ways to improve the health of the urban poor, particularly slum-dwellers. Specifically, Bunch is investigating an adaptive ecosystem approach that integrates the management of land, water and living organisms to promote balance and sustainability.

Bunch’s project is also a comparative study and builds on the experiences of the Golden Horseshoe in southern Ontario. The ecosystem approaches have been used for decades in the Toronto-Hamilton area and Bunch is applying these approaches to the Chennai context.

“New experience of the ecosystem approach in Chennai, where environmental health problems are magnitudes worse, will re-inform the approach for application elsewhere,” says Bunch. “The research will identify theoretical and practical areas for further research and promote collaborative work among Canadian and Indian partners. The candid comparison between developed and developing countries will contribute theoretical models for ecosystem management focused on the protection and enhancement of human health.”

The research program is a collaborative effort that includes contributions from faculty at the University of Madras and McMaster University, and from Raj Murthy, a senior aquatic ecosystem scientist at Environment Canada and president of the Karnataka Environment Research Foundation (KERF).

KERF created the International Conference on Environment & Health to promote environmental quality through understanding the multiple and interactive relationships among ecosystems and human health. Changes to the natural environment pose serious threats to human health, welfare and security. Many examples link human health, environmental degradation and pollution at local, regional and global scales. The bi-annual series of International Conferences on Environment & Health seek to explore and promote interdisciplinary understanding of these issues.

This year, the conference will host approximately 130 presentations and 300 delegates from around the world, including attendees from Nigeria, Cameroon, Benin, Egypt, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Nepal, Mexico and Brazil as well as Northern countries.

At York, Bunch is coordinator of the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Remote Sensing Certificate program in FES. Following the Chennai meeting, Bunch will conduct a one-day post-conference workshop he developed and organized on GIS and IT Tools for Information Sharing in Planning and Environmental Management. This workshop is supported by a $4,000 York Incentive Grant. As well as being a learning workshop, Bunch states that “the workshop is also a step towards building another project oriented at public participation and web-distributed GIS.” This spin-off project would have the potential to result in future research opportunities for the York University community, he added.

In addition to the in-kind contribution of faculty time, York  and FES are supporting the conference and post-conference with a Graduate Assistantship position, the award of a research incentive grant, and the use of specialized software for the workshop.

Other contributors to the ICEH include the governments of Canada, India and Tamil Nadu, and the University of Madras and McMaster University Institute of Environment and Health.

The International Conference on Environment & Health runs from Dec. 15 to 17 and the post-conference workshop will take place on Dec. 18.

Beth McMahon, a first-year MES student who is working for FES External Relations, supplied this article to YFile.