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Research verifies the perception of young people about sustainability components

by Richard Meckien - published Apr 18, 2017 10:50 AM - - last modified Apr 19, 2017 04:03 PM
Rights: Original version in Portuguese by Mauro Bellesa.

Seminário Use of Geographic Methods to Characterize Social Inequalities - 29/03/2017
British and Brazilian seminar participants

A new concept for the analysis of the sustainability conditions of urban and rural areas has been used by researchers in recent years. It is the "food-water-energy nexus" test, which seeks to examine the interrelationships of these three essential components of environmental and human quality. The subject was addressed in a public event on March 29, at the seminar Use of geographic methods to characterize social inequalities.

The seminar was organized by the IEA in partnership with the Institute of Advanced Studies of the University of Birmingham (UoB). Both Institutes are members the network University-Based Institutes for Advanced Study (UBIAS) and have been carrying out several activities together in recent years.

Researchers from the UoB, and the universities of Leicester and Northampton participated as exhibitors. The commentator was Thais Mauad, a professor at USP's School of Medicine and coordinator of IEA's Study Group on Urban Agriculture (GEAU). The meeting was coordinated by Ligia Vizeu Barrozo, a professor at USP's Faculty of Philosophy, Languages and Literature, and Human Sciences (FFLCH), and coordinator of IEA's Study Group on Urban Space and Health.

The first panel of the meeting addressed the research (Re)Connect the Nexus: Young Brazilians' Experiences of and Learning about Food, Water and Energy, developed by researchers from the three British universities and the São Paulo State University (UNESP).

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Other conferences held by the Birmingham IAS at the IEA:

Washing without Water and other Stories of Innovation: Accelerating research into societal innovation

Children Who Care - Global Perspectives on Children’s Hidden Care-Giving Roles within their Families

The research is underway and aims to analyze the experiences of young people (10 to 24 years) in the Paraíba River Valley and the North Coast of the State of São Paulo with questions related to food, water resources and energy sources, as well as to verify what they know about the relationship between these three factors.

Peter Kraftl - 29/03/2017
Peter Kraftl

Project coordinator Peter Kraftl, from the UoB, talked about the objectives and methodology of the research, the concept of food-water-energy nexus and the questioning of this approach. According to him, the notion of nexus has been advocated primarily by researchers and policy makers in the US and the UK. "One of the questions we want to evaluate is whether this idea is relevant to Brazil."

While nexus-based thinking may be useful for policy-making groups, "it involves creating connections and examining trade-offs that end up in an imposed holism, reducing complex social and material processes to mere components of the nexus, such as food and water," commented Kraftl. In his view, many researches ignore the reality of life of individuals and communities, and how they engage in the nexus.

Kraftl said that one of the main problems for formulating public policies from the nexus analysis is to minimize the trade-off as much as possible, such as in the dilemma between planting to produce food or biofuels. He asked: "Who makes these decisions? How are they made? What are the advantages and disadvantages of each option?"

However, he considers that examining how young people and policy makers see the interweaving of the components of the nexus influences people's lives and work, and can favor sustainability education.

Besides Kraftl, the research was commented by Catherine Walker, from the University of Leicester, who dealt with interviews with leaders and professionals, and Cristiana Zara, from the UoB, who talked about the interviews with young people from the Paraíba River Valley.

Detailed reference interviews with 5,000 young people in the region began in March. In the same period, qualitative interviews began with 50 young people. A mobile application has been provided to respondents to record their daily experiences regarding food, water, and energy. By June, 50 policy makers, including educators and representatives of the private sector and government agencies, will also be interviewed.

The project is also holding a video contest. Ten videos will be online on YouTube for young people around the world to vote for their favorites.

Walker said that the interviews with leaders and professionals is helpful in understanding the context in which young people are growing, their access to resources, restrictions on access, and what they know about natural resources. One of the highlights of these interviews, she says, is the issue of rural exodus. "The young do not find opportunities for development and education in the countryside, and are attracted to cities by a variety of factors. This is worrying, since there are already large concentrations of people in the Paraíba River Valley. And as small food producers move to the city, the land ends up being occupied by intensive agriculture, which demands more water."

Safety in regard to water has also appeared prominently in the interviews, with many references to the water crisis of 2014/2015. "Several respondents pointed out that people are aware of the importance of resources when they become scarce, but they end up reverting to pre-crisis consumption habits when the supply normalizes."

Zara, in turn, pointed out that in the interviews that are being held with 5,000 youngsters they reveal their strong cultural involvement with food, with great appreciation for the role of food in favor of sociability. In the case of water, she said that there is an expansion of concepts about the various uses of the resource (food, sanitation, agriculture, energy production and industrial use), with the incorporation of the theme in education for sustainability," although this does not happen uniformly in the education system."

According to Zara, young people show a strong sense of individual responsibility for the proper use of natural resources. "For many of them, if everyone does their small part, this will encourage sustainable practices in the community. At the same time there is a strong sense of the political dimension of the issue, with the demand that the state should also play its part."

The project led by Kraftl is funded by the National Council of the State Research Support Foundations (via FAPESP) and two UK institutions: the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Newton Fund.

Sophie Hadfield-Hill - 29/03/2017
Sophie Hadfield-Hill

Urbanism in India

The second part of the event dealt indirectly with aspects related to the nexus, but in the specific context of the Indian urban growth. The theme was the project New Urbanisms in India: Urban Life, Sustainability and Everyday Life, also supported by the ESRC. The speaker was coordinator Sophie Hadfield-Hill, from the UoB.

According to her, 590 million Indians will be living in cities by 2030, with 91 million middle-class families and 61 cities with more than 1 million inhabitants." The demands for this urban growth will require an investment of US$ 1.2 trillion.

Hadfield-Hill spoke about new housing developments under construction on the outskirts of Indian cities and threats to urban areas. "There is the pressure of population growth and migration on urban services, access to sanitation, water and energy, as well as impacts on land and other consequences of social inequality."

The main challenges are the provision of quality water, sewage collection and electricity supply. "According to the World Bank, only 16% of households have sewage collection. No Indian city has 24-hour water supply and only 1/4 of the population has access to electricity."

Despite all these difficulties for urban life in India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, upon taking office in May 2014, proposed the creation of 100 smart cities, with the adaptation of existing cities and construction of entirely new cities, commented Hadfield-Hill. The proposal received several criticisms, she said, but 20 cities have already been selected through a national competition.

The Indian government defines smart cities as those that "care first about their most pressing needs and the best opportunities for improving the quality of life." They should use a range of approaches that include "digital and information technologies, best practices in urban planning, public-private partnerships, political change and thinking of people first," Hadfield-Hill said.

Among other initiatives, proposals for Indian smart cities include paving that captures the energy of moving cars, online water connections systems and smart bus stops.

As a case study she spoke about the construction of the city of Lavasa by a private enterprise. It will have five hubs (the first one is ready), house 300,000 inhabitants and receive 2 million tourists a year.

According to her, Lavasa is being built following the principles of new urbanism. Some of them are: sustainability; planned growth of density (population decreases as households move away from the center); mix of housing types, including income groups; ease of access to general services (10 minute-walk from home or work to most of them); architectural quality and urban design.

Photos: Marcos Santos/Jornal da USP