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Individual and Community well-being
by Larrissa Ribova
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Community health and community capacity
  The concept of community health is part of the studies dealing with community well-being, quality-of life-studies, community sustainability and community capacity (Beckley and Burkosky, 1999). The concept was used in Canada, when the Canadian Healthy Communities Project (that included more than 200 Canadian communities) was promoted from 1998 to 1991. Patterson (1995) sees the healthy community movement as an attempt to integrate research on quality of life indicators with policy concerns regarding sustainable development. The concept addresses both the well-being of community residents and the health of the surrounding physical environment.
  Within this framework, progress towards becoming a healthy city is seen as the main goal. A healthy city is most often defined as "one that is continually creating and improving those physical and social environments and expanding those community resources which enable people to support each other in performing all the functions of life and in developing themselves to their maximum potential" (Lane, 1989). The importance of a healthy community concept has been the community-level efforts to recognize the linkages between human behavior, the ecosystem and human system well-being. Indicators of socio-economic status, education, social support, clean and safe physical environment are used for the evaluation of progress towards becoming a healthy community. The concept is less popular in Scandinavia and Russia, where community well-being or the sustainable community concept (i.e. Local agenda 21) are more in use.
  The recognition of the linkages between a safe physical environment and well-being (that should take place at the personal, local, regional and federal levels), is especially important for the Russian North. It is well known, that some territories in the Russian North are extremely polluted. The Murmansk region, one of the most urbanized industrial region in the Russian North (with 92% of its population living in urban settlements), can serve as an example. The urban settlements are in most cases, industrial one-company towns. The territories around the big industrial enterprises (e.g. the town of Monchegorsk where Severonikel combine is located) are among the worst polluted areas in Russia. The research on the connections between health status and environment in the Murmansk region has shown very high indexes of correlation between the state of the physical environment in the industrial towns and rates of various diseases. The highest indexes of correlation between the levels of atmospheric pollution and cases of illnesses were detected for Monchegorsk (cooper and nickel as main pollutants), Nikel (sulfur as main pollutant), and Murmansk (lead). It was found that atmospheric cooper pollution was a major risk factor for chronic lung diseases, asthma and stomach illnesses. Nickel pollution was a major risk factor for asthma and blood diseases while sulfur pollution tightly correlated with asthma, cancer and blood diseases (Zaidfudim & Mizun, 1998).
  As described above, the "ill fate" of northern communities (often in the literal meaning) is a reality for many. Many of these communities refuse to accept their "ill fate" and possess a strength to respond to external and internal stresses in order to create and take advantage of opportunities to heal themselves as well as meet the needs of residents (Kusel, 1996). This "ability" is conceptualized as community capacity (Kusel, 1996; Doak and Kusel, 1997).

Evaluation of community capacity requires consideration of the following components:

  • Physical capital (the physical elements and resources in a community and financial capital).
  • Human capital (the skills, education, experiences and general abilities of the residents).
  • Social capital (the ability and willingness of residents to work together for community goals) (Kusel, 1996).
  Community capacity has been identified as an important factor influencing community well-being (Kusel and Fortmann 1991, Beckley and Sprenger 1995, Doak, and Kusel, 1996). Doak and Kusel define well-being as a function of both socioeconomic status and community capacity. To measure the socioeconomic status of communities they used indicators of housing tenure, poverty, education level, and employment. Their results show that communities with high socio-economic status do not necessarily have a high community capacity. According to the authors, this weak correlation highlights the critical role of social capital. While socioeconomic status reflects the wealth of people in the community, community capacity is about the willingness of these people to share wealth.
  Recent research projects focused on northern communities give many indications of the particular importance of social capital for improving community well-being. For example, research within the UNESCO MOST (Management of Social Transformation) Circumpolar Coping Processes Project, dealing with North Atlantic fishing based localities, revealed that strong social capital was a major precondition for economic and social recovering after the severe crisis in the fisheries that took place in the beginning of the 90s. Within the project, numerous case studies revealed evidence of the vital importance of local networks and trust for building social capital in the communities. It was empirically proven that overlap of networks and high levels of trust made it possible to generate diverse new initiatives crucial for community survival under new conditions (Aarsaether & Baerenholdt, 1998).
  This brief essay on northern community well-being leaves room for further investigations. However, it makes the important contribution that efforts to improve the well-being of the northern communities, first of all, should be directed to ensure that communities can be actively engaged in the process of improving their own well-being and this process should be based on increasing local capacity with an emphasis on social capital building.
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Individual and Community well-being, by Larrissa Ribova.
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