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February 18, 2014

Planning Families to Protect the Future

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Deepa Pullanikatil, program manager for LEAD, speaking at the Congressional Briefing on Population, Health, and Environment.

By the end of the century, scientists expect the global population to reach nearly 11 billion. That’s almost four billion more people than are alive right now.

When you think about population growth, it’s pretty easy to see how it can disturb the environment: more resources used, more energy produced, more housing needed, more food consumed, etc. Over one billion people currently live in biodiversity hotspots, and that number is rapidly increasing.

But what you may not think about is how much of a positive effect family planning can have on the environment and women’s health.

Groups like the Sierra Club and Population Action International (PAI) are actively working to integrate population, health, and environment (PHE) into government plans in the U.S. and around the world, especially in countries like Niger where the average woman has 7.03 children and the unmet need for family planning is high. To put that into perspective, if each woman alive today between the ages of 15 and 44 had 7.03 children--that’s roughly 1.6 billion women--they would have 11.3 billion children.

“When couples can plan the number, timing, and spacing of their children, that helps the environment and the economy,” said Beverly Johnson, chief of the Policy, Evaluation, and Communication Division of the USAID Office of Population and Reproductive Health.

The more women that have access to family planning, the better their quality of life, and the better it is for the environment. When women are able to make their own choices in reproductive health, the whole world benefits.

The community of groups that work on PHE focuses on five main ideas: health, population, environment, food security, and livelihoods. Their goal is to address the day-to-day challenges of women and to integrate these ideas in a comprehensive way.

And PHE can be found all around the world.

Deepa Pullanikatil, program manager for Leadership for Environment and Development (LEAD) in southern and eastern Africa, is working to improve the environmental conditions around Lake Chilwa in Malawi, Africa. When her team asked why more women weren’t participating in conservation activities, the response was unanimous: healthcare and family planning.

Her team was able to provide medication for Bilharzia, a parasite that can be easily cured with one dose of medication, as well as provide information about family planning.

Dr. Doreen Othero, the regional program coordinator for the East African Community of the Lake Victoria Basin Commission in Africa, works with five African nations--Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Burundi. The Lake Victoria Basin (LVB) is home to approximately 40 million people, and PHE programs have been adopted into this area to help sustain the environment of the largest tropical lake in the world as well as provide family planning resources to promote sustainable development.

To elevate the successes of integrated projects like these, the Sierra Club and PAI hosted a Congressional briefing on PHE this week, and asked for support for Representative Barbara Lee’s (D-CA) House Concurrent Resolution 36, “recognizing the disparate impact of climate change on women and the efforts of women globally to address climate change,” as well as support the Global Sexual and Reproductive Health Act of 2013.  

“The past century of population growth has put increasing pressure on natural resources as the scale of human needs and activities expands,” the Global Sexual and Reproductive Health Act states. “At the same time, actual family size in most developing countries remains greater than the desired family size. Access to family planning services helps couples to determine their own family size, hence mitigating the depletion of natural resources like clean water, air, and land.”

“Women are the agents of change,”  said Eleanor Blomstrom, Program Director at the Women’s Environment and Development Organization.

By working toward enacting this legislation and continuing to discuss women’s and reproductive health and choices on a global level, we can work toward creating a brighter future for the environment and every woman worldwide.

--Cindy Carr, Sierra Club Media Team

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