Vital issues facing industrialized nations offer opportunities for collaboration beyond technology

The University of Queensland, with its beautiful St. Lucia campus shown above, served as co-host for the 6th McDonnell International Scholars Academy symposium.

By Andrea Balassy, McDonnell Scholar from the School of Engineering & Applied Science: Energy, Environmental & Chemical Engineering (PhD)  and Yi-Ling Lin, McDonnell Scholar from Arts & Sciences: Anthropology (PhD)

In the McDonnell International Scholars Academy symposium joint session on industrialized nations, several related issues were addressed, such as environmental pollution, aging, as well as water and food security.

Benjamin A. Suarez-Isla, director of the Transdisciplinary Network on Aging at the University of Chile, presented certain challenges related to aging due to low birth rates and general improvement of living conditions. According to the measurement made by ECLAC (Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean) and CELADE (Latin American and Caribbean Demographic Centre), Chile is the third “super-aging” country in the region after Uruguay and Argentina.

One of the crucial problems associated with aging is the effect on the pension system. Pension replacement rates are highly dependent on efficient labor market, as McDonnell Scholar Rodrigo Moser highlighted it in his recent report on Individual Account Pension Systems. Extensive periods of unemployment are a key factor that are hard to avoid and can be unexpected.

As an example, in 2010, 33 men got stuck in a mine for 69 days in Copiapo, Chile. Their story was immortalized in a Hollywood movie (The 33) starring Antonio Banderas – but not all of them have a real-life happy ending. Despite of the fame they had after some of them travelled around the world, they had to face the reality: post-traumatic stress and no job. Leonardo Farkas, a Chilean mining entrepreneur, offered them job beside some $7000 gift for each of them, but most of them are unable to work underground as a result of their psychological issues.

Jose Henriquez, 55 when rescued, toured UK and US and joined President Barack Obama as an honored guest at the National Prayer Breakfast. However, Victor Zamora, who was only 33 at that time, has to live on a small government pension, and struggled to find work. In 2015, he has lost his house in northern Chile due to flash floods. When each of them retire, they will probably have a very different social and metal status.

The diversity of individual destinies needs to be incorporated when creating new policies, training programs and health services. An organized interdisciplinary research network could help to identify and support the people affected by life threating experiences that have long-term effects on many aspects of their life.

Volunteer programs are promising opportunities for everyone who is looking for an unforgettable experience that includes not only learning about another country but helping its people too. South America Inside1 is one example that has such program: working in a home for older adults in Santiago de Chile.

Responsibilities include supporting the nursing staff, food distribution, organizing activities and projects for seniors, daily conversations with the residents. Expanding such opportunities to university students from different countries and with different background could open up new collaborations between universities, and living and facing the challenges in these critical areas could contribute to come up with solutions for other issues addressed in the session related to water, air pollution, and health problems.

People grow through experience if they meet life honestly and courageously.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

Dr. Wen-Jane Chen, Dean of the college of Public Health at National Taiwan University, shared his observations about food, water and air security in Taiwan. One idea that is often forgotten or ignored is – food security is not just important to our physical health; it is also vital to psychological health of the public in a society.

In the past five years, several incidents related to food security have reduced the trust of the public for the Taiwanese government. This lack of trust could lead to an unstable society. Therefore, the government of Taiwan and National Taiwan University Public Health College are working on setting up regulations for food and developing online reporting system to collect related data from the public.

It is important to pay attention to social impacts caused by food security, because food is such a basic element of our life. Besides, together with all the other environment issues we are facing, very often we tend to emphasize contributions of education on developing new technology. However, it looks like the original function of higher education – developing doctors of philosophy is forgotten, especially the philosophy part. We don’t mean to argue that we don’t need those new technologies. But, aside from developing new technologies to maintain comfort of our life, shouldn’t we also consider our lifestyles as part of the  overall life philosophy?

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