Environment

  • The Domino Effect of Family Planning

    Imagine a line of dominos stretched out as far as the eye can see, with additional lines branching off into the distance. This web of dominos represents the multiple connections between family planning and every dimension of sustainable development. What many still don’t comprehend is how large and far reaching this web truly is.

    We’ll begin with a simple and intuitive causal relationship: voluntary use of contraception prevents unintended pregnancies. Unintended pregnancies result in thousands of deaths globally and many more disabilities each year. Many unplanned pregnancies end in abortion. Almost half of the 40 million abortions performed each year are unsafe, placing nearly 20 million women at risk for infection, hemorrhage, disability, and death. Thus, contraception prevents unintended pregnancies and saves women’s lives.

    Dr. Ward Cates, President Emeritus at FHI 360, visits health workers that are involved with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation-funded Urban Health Initiative (UHI) in India.

    And the benefits of family planning don’t end with women. Families using contraception have fewer, healthier children and reduced economic burden. Children born to mothers who have used modern contraception in planning their families are not only more likely to have a mother, and one who is healthy, they also are more likely to have been breast fed for longer and received more parental attention, support and resources than children born in to families that were not planned. All of these factors increase the chances that they will survive infancy into childhood. Therefore, family planning also saves children’s lives. Moreover, if after childhood girls and women are given control over their fertility, they are more likely to stay in school and to get jobs. Educated, employed women are in turn more likely to use contraception, thus re-initiating the virtuous cycle of benefits that family planning brings to women and their families.

    The benefits still don’t end there. Ensuring that we can feed our growing population while protecting the planet has quickly become one of the most pressing challenges in sustainable development. Regions of the world with the highest unmet need for family planning are already forced to bear the burden of climate change effects to which they have contributed the least. These effects include drought and famine. Turning an extra acre of forest into tilled land is not a choice for a woman without access to reproductive health resources. It is a matter of survival. And it is a preventable scenario. Right now more than 200 million women worldwide want to plan and time their pregnancies but are unable to do so for lack of information and access to contraceptive resources. If the percentage of women with unmet family planning needs remains constant, developing country populations are expected hit 9.7 billion by 2050, and 25.8 billion by 2100. By filling this need, we could greatly relieve some of the combined pressures being placed on resources and communities, including a growing demand for food.

    The right and ability of women and couples to plan their families is not peripheral to the aims and objectives of Rio+20. Indeed, the call for greater attention to women’s rights and issues at Rio+20 is growing into a crescendo. Women’s Major Group is mobilizing women across the world to share their stories and ensure that women’s rights are front and center on the agenda. Over 100 of the world’s leading scientific academies have called upon world leaders to enact rational, evidence-based responses to sustainable development challenges, including global access to comprehensive reproductive health resources.

    Until now, too few people have been aware and too few leaders willing to acknowledge the essential role that family planning plays in achieving sustainable development. Rio+20 is our chance to tip this pivotal domino piece forward, and witness the measurable cascade of progress it evokes.

  • Protecting the world’s oceans through responsible fishing practices

    June 8 is World Oceans Day. What are the most serious risks that the world’s oceans face?

    There are many issues that the oceans face, including pollution, over-fishing, unregulated and illegal fishing practices, and habitat destruction. Oceans are also very susceptible to climate change, and ocean acidification is a serious issue. Not only are the oceans at risk, but the millions of people who live in coastal communities around the world are at risk as well.

    How is the Global FISH Alliance helping to protect the oceans?

    The Global FISH Alliance (G-FISH) is an alliance of companies and organizations working to manage fisheries worldwide in order to preserve biodiversity and support communities that depend on oceans for their livelihoods. G-FISH has worked with hundreds of local stakeholders in each country where we work — Cambodia, Honduras, and Mozambique — to improve the safety and management of the fisheries. We work throughout the value chain to promote long-term, sustainable fisheries. G-FISH also developed the “Know Your Source” campaign to ask consumers to be more informed about where their seafood comes from, which helps promote responsible fishing practices.

    Who should play a role in protecting the oceans?

    Everyone — and not just because the oceans provide much of the air we breathe. It’s not just an environmental issue. Fish supply the greatest percentage of the world’s protein consumed by humans. Ocean tourism is one of the largest industries in the world, and products worldwide are transported via international shipping lanes. We also enjoy ocean reefs when we’re on vacation. Whether it’s becoming an advocate or just being more informed about the ocean’s issues — everyone should play a role.

    For more information about the work G-FISH is doing around the world, visit www.globalfishalliance.com.

  • Video Workshops and Toolkit Offer Crash Course to Agriculture Projects in Sub-Saharan Africa

    Inexpensive video production has become a viable way for agricultural organizations to communicate with beneficiaries, donors, and the public. And it’s not just posting on YouTube. Devices such as handheld projectors and tablet computers have come down in price, enabling practitioners to disseminate to farmers in rural areas with minimal technology. Social networks – just a few years ago only the purview of wealthy countries – are now truly global. In regions with electricity, a well-executed video can now go viral – and become more impactful than the slickest behavior change campaigns of decades past.

    It is exciting, but that doesn’t make it simple. Organizations continue to make low quality videos that fail to engage their audience or reflect the core objectives of their project.

    To help users learn the ropes, the Fostering Agriculture Competitiveness Employing Information Communication Technologies (FACET) project has developed an online toolkit that can help one through every stage of planning, producing, and disseminating agricultural videos. It is called “Integrating Low-Cost Video into Agricultural Development Projects: A Toolkit for Practitioners,” and is available for free download.

    The toolkit is also the basis for a series of four workshops offered this month to USAID implementing partners by toolkit author Josh Woodard and myself, in Kenya, Mozambique, and Ghana. The first of the trainings was completed last week in Nairobi.

    The workshop focuses on implementing your low-cost video vision, which requires skills beyond playing Spielberg: strategically thinking about message, storyboarding narrative concepts, planning dissemination, troubleshooting inevitably buggy software, and personal perseverance, all play a role in a video’s success or failure.

    One participant, Victor Nzai, program assistant for USAID-funded Agricultural Market Development Trust of Kenya (AGMARK) project focused on agro-pastoral development, felt the training would improve his project’s ability to encourage farmers to efficiently integrate grazing range land and food production in Kenya.

    “We have been doing dissemination via field days quite successfully, but with video, we can reach many more farmers than before,” said Nzai. “We shall shoot the videos ourselves, and edit them into comprehensive tools that can be presented by a facilitator.”

    Agricultural development practitioners are looking for new ways to leverage video to circulate information and engage local farmers. Video can help them do it – but it is the holistic consideration of concept, design, and execution that will maximize chances for success.

    “Not everyone will adopt our ideas,” said Nzai. “But when we multiply the number of farmers we reach, we are able to tune our message with video to encourage farmers and pastoralists to consider better ways.”

    Learn more about using information and communication technology in agriculture.

  • Climate Change and Health

    On December 4, 2011, I attended the inaugural Climate and Health Summit in Durban, South Africa. The Summit was organized by Health Care Without Harm and other organizations and occurred simultaneously with the Conference of the Parties (COP-17) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The goal of the Climate and Health Summit was to bring together actors from key health sectors to discuss the impacts of climate change on public health and solutions that promote greater health and economic equity between and within nations.

    Climate change has brought about severe and possibly permanent alterations to our planet. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) now contends that “there is new and stronger evidence that most of the global warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities.” These changes have led to the emergence of large-scale environmental hazards to human health mainly in the following areas:

    • Poorer air quality and increased pollution leading to respiratory disease
    • Increase in the spread of infectious diseases including diarrheal disease and insect-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue fever
    • Reduction in the availability of land for farming due to floods, droughts and other dramatic weather changes, which leads to poverty and malnutrition
    • Increase in the number of extreme weather events, such as floods, droughts and heat waves, which leads to substantial morbidity and mortality as well as economic loss
    • More forced migration as families move to find food and water and end up living in crowded and under-resourced refugee camps

    The impacts of climate change on health are, and will continue to be, overwhelmingly negative. To make the situation worse, the majority of the adverse effects of climate change are experienced by poor and low-income communities around the world, which have much higher levels of vulnerability to these impacts. This was a hot topic in Durban, where it was argued that the more developed countries should pay “climate debt,” that is, compensate the poor for damages suffered as a result of climate change.

    One thing is certain: Climate change IS happening. It also impacts human health. Governments, societies and individuals need not only to adapt to the changes that have occurred but also to take steps to mitigate any further damage to our planet. There is no Planet B!

    Janet Robinson is the Director of Research, Asia Pacific Region, and the Global Director of Laboratory Sciences for FHI 360 based in Bangkok, Thailand.


    Watch videos and join the conversation at our LIVE coverage of the Climate and Health Summit here.