Joann Varickanickal Spotlights Marta Echavarría
By Joann Varickanickal, Speaker Ambassador at the 2019 Planetary Health Annual Meeting
Marta Echavarría graduated with a B.A in Environmental Studies and a Master’s in Development Studies, both from Brown University. She is the founding director of EcoDecision, a consulting firm in Quito Ecuador, which focuses on conservation finance. While taking an environmental studies course in college, Marta’s passion for environmental protection was sparked as she began to think more about the impacts of the economy on the environment, specifically in developing countries. Realizing that the most diverse ecosystems on the planet were also inhabited by communities that were struggling to sustain the wellbeing of their citizens, she initially thought that the cost of environmental protection was too high for developing countries. However, this was not true, as the answer to this problem is sustainable development. While Marta notes that this term is often misused, it still encompasses the importance of economic development co-existing with social and environmental equity.
While at the 2019 Planetary Health Annual Meeting, Marta expanded on these ideas, conveying her passion for planetary health. She shared her work alongside other speakers in the session titled “Rising up to the Challenge: Scaling Freshwater Solutions.” She highlighted the importance of natural infrastructure solutions, such as water funds. These solutions are becoming increasingly popular, have been proven to effectively protect water quality, as well as water flow, and are economically practical. Financial returns also provide social co-benefits, as, depending on the region, they assist rural and poor communities. Returns can also help to address issues of inequality related to gender and indigenous communities. Her talk also highlighted that natural infrastructure can complement grey infrastructure. She provided case studies from South America and emphasized: “What we do and don’t do for the Andes affects the Amazon…this area is vital to the health of the region and the world.”
Meeting Marta and hearing her speak was valuable for my own experience at the 2019 Planetary Health Annual Meeting. Currently, I am Master’s student at McMaster University in Canada. My research looks at health vulnerability to extreme heat events, specifically among the newcomer population in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. However, I also have a strong interest in issues related to water. In the past, I have done research focusing on water risk perception in rural Kenya. Recently, I was a part of the UNU-INWEH Water Without Borders program, which allowed me to participate in a field course to Peru to learn more about how climate change is impacting the region, specifically in terms of availability of water. Hearing Marta speak provided another opportunity for me to reflect on what I saw in Peru, and also thinking more about local water issues in Canada.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Planetary Health Alliance or its members.