The country of Arborlind is in bad shape. It falls in the bottom quarter of countries on the Human Development Index, and much of the majority-rural population lives on $1 a day. In addition, Arborlind is experiencing rapid population growth, and 40 percent of the population is under the age of 15. Deforestation and environmental degradation continue unabated in Arborlind, as families depend on natural resources for their livelihoods, and agriculture is often carried out unsustainably.
Nevertheless, there is hope that Arborlind’s natural beauty, impressive landscapes, and unique flora and fauna will translate into an adventure tourism market that will help turn around the country’s economy. This is particularly true in Floriana National Park, home not only to unique plants and animals, but also to the indigenous Sedentaire and—for part of the year—Wandran tribes.
The future of Floriana is a topic of much debate in Arborlind. The Conservonly Foundation of California wants to preserve it, but demands that all people be removed and prevented from re-entering. Civil society prioritizes poverty alleviation and livelihood generation, and is also fighting for improving human health and the environment. The private sector wants a positive regulatory environment that allows the tourism and agribusiness industries access to land and water resources. Finally, the government of Arborlind wants to improve the economy and protect the tribes, but more than anything else wants to prevent the conflict between these groups from turning into an embarrassing scene just two months before it hosts soccer’s African Cup.
The participants in the Arborlind simulation—written by ECSP’s Geoff Dabelko and Gib Clarke, along with Shewaye Deribe Woldeyohannes of the Ethio Wetlands and Natural Resources Association—switched roles for an afternoon, as they sought solutions to the problems in Arborlind. Wearing different hats—a health minister playing the part of a hotelier, for example—participants reported gaining new perspectives and increased understanding of sustainable development challenges and potential solutions.
The simulation exercise was part of the “Population, Health, and Environment: Integrated Development for East Africa” conference, attended by more than 200 people from Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, and 17 other countries. Participants presented real-world solutions to problems very similar to those in Arborlind, explaining how all parties can—and must—come together to address people’s multifaceted needs.
I have attended more conferences than I care to remember. But this conference was unique: There was tremendous excitement about the potential of integrated programs to address population, health, environment, and other challenges in East Africa. There was also a palpable sense of community, as different organizations from different countries realized that there were others like them, also seeking to solve complicated problems with integrated solutions. Hopefully, the lessons learned and the networks formed will sustain the energy that came out of the conference, and lead to an increase in the number and sophistication of integrated programs in East Africa.