Vanier Scholar's research focuses on UN's Sustainable Development Goals and watersheds in two countries

Christiana Onabola, a UNBC Health Sciences PhD student, has earned a federally-funded Vanier Scholarship for her research that focuses on the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and how they are relevant to local populations and communities along the Nechako Watershed in British Columbia and Niger Delta in Nigeria.

July 22, 2020
Vanier Scholar Christiana Onabola hopes to defend her PhD thesis proposal this fall.
Vanier Scholar Christiana Onabola hopes to defend her PhD thesis proposal this fall.

Christiana Onabola, a PhD?Health Sciences student at the University of Northern British Columbia, has been awarded a federally-funded Vanier Scholarship for her research that focuses on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and how they are relevant to local populations and communities along the Nechako Watershed and Niger Delta in Nigeria in order to strengthen the goals’ tenet of leaving no one behind.

Up to 166 Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships are awarded to doctoral students across the country in health, natural sciences and/or engineering and social sciences.

Onabola’s scholarship is from the federal Canadian Institutes of Health Research and is valued at $50,000 per year for three years.

In 2015, world leaders at the United Nations put together the 17 SDGs, a set of global goals to tackle economic, social and environmental challenges that are local and global in nature.

“There are, however, concerns about how these goals interact and what happens when, for instance, a goal related to health and the environment is traded off in order to meet another tailored toward?economic development,” explains Onabola.

“I am excited that this funding will, no iota of doubt, offer substantial supports and tremendous possibilities for my proposed two-country research project, which is expected to engage with specific SDGs stakeholders across scales.

“The funding will enhance my research productivity by being able to take on necessary technological supports and needed resources, participate in conferences, and, in the ultimate, potentially develop granular data tools at the scale of watersheds that can localize the SDGs and bring their metrics closer to reflecting social, environmental and health inequities in remote communities that often go unreflected, unreported and unmonitored.”

Onabola added that she’s using her research platform to shed?light on potential trade-off conflicts among the SDGs and the need to adopt watersheds as units of analysis in order to track unjust distribution of environmental exposures and understand difficult-to-track inequities in environmental health outcomes, which may?arise?from SDGs interactions within and?across communities.

“It is important to ensure that the poorest, farthest and most vulnerable or socially-disadvantaged?communities can find relevance with and benefit from the SDGs,” she explains. “Using data separated into component parts by watersheds can usually reveal masked challenges and disparities and is essential to developing essential?place-based interventions that will culminate in global impacts for the SDGs.”

Onabola is part of the Environment, Community and Health Observatory Network at UNBC.

The ECHO Network is a five-year research program, funded by a Canadian Institutes of Health Research Team Grant, focused on working together across sectors to take notice of- and respond to- the influence of resource development on health and well-being, with specific emphasis on rural, remote and Indigenous communities and environments. The project brings together university researchers and local knowledge-users who have identified a need to better understand and respond to the health, environment and community impacts of resource development.

Onabola said the ECHO Network provided her a useful platform for her to learn, collaborate and hold conversations around her research ideas.

So far, Onabola, whose supervisor is UNBC Health Sciences Professor, Dr. Margot Parkes, has defended her qualifying paper, put out a preliminary publication, and hopes to defend her thesis proposal this fall.

The Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship is named after George S. Vanier, the first Francophone Governor General in Canada.