Bureaucratic stovepipes plague international development efforts, and aid for pressing environmental and human security concerns—such as climate change, food shortages, fresh water access, and global health threats—rarely matches the reality on the ground in the developing world, where such health and environmental problems are fundamentally interconnected.
Instead, development efforts in the field—whether spearheaded by multilaterals, bilaterals, or NGOs—are commonly devoted to single sectors: e.g., the prevention and treatment of a single disease; the implementation of irrigation infrastructure in a specific area; or the introduction of a new crop in a certain region. The reasons for such a narrow focus can come from multiple sources: finite resources, narrowly constructed funding streams, emphasis on simple and discrete indicators of success, and institutional and professional development penalties for those who conduct integrated work. But some experts argue that integrating problem-solving initiatives across categories would not only improve the efficacy of development efforts, but also better improve lives in target communities.
As part of the USAID Knowledge Management Center‘s 2010 Summer Seminar Series, a recent National Press Club panel on integration featured a frank discussion of both the opportunities and challenges inherent in breaking down barriers within and between development agencies. Panelists from the World Bank’s Environment Department, the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Environment Change and Security Program weighed in on the prospects for cross-sectoral integration.
Addressing the impacts of a global problem like climate change “requires multilevel approaches,” and necessitates that we “think multisectorally along the lines of agriculture, water, transportation, energy, [and] security,” said Loren Labovitch of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. The four topics under discussion—climate change, food security, water, and health—are all Obama administration priorities, as reflected by dedicated programs and special initiatives. Finding ways to practically integrate these interrelated challenges (through efforts like the Feed the Future Initiative or the Global Health Initiative) is getting more attention from policy analysts and policymakers with each passing year.
Integration in Practice: Success Stories
While there may be an emerging willingness to discuss and even experiment with holistic programming, what does it actually look in practice? Panelist Geoff Dabelko, director of the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Environmental Change and Security Program, singled out integrated development programs in the Philippines, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Asia as examples.
Philippines: The PATH Foundation Philippines’ Integrated Population and Coastal Resource Management (IPOPCORM) initiative uses an integrated approach to address health and environmental concerns in coastal communities. Their “basket of services” includes establishing a locally managed protected marine sanctuary to allow local fish stocks to recover, promoting alternative economic livelihoods outside of the fishing industry, and improving access to local health services and commodities, said Dabelko. To date, IPOPCORM has yielded several notable improvements, among them reduced program costs and improved health and environmental outcomes as compared to side-by-side single sector interventions. A forthcoming peer-reviewed article will appear in Environmental Conservation, and will detail the controlled comparison study of the IPOPCORM project.
Democratic Republic of Congo: Mercy Corps has also successfully pursued cross-sectoral programming as part of a larger effort to be more holistic in its humanitarian and development responses. In war-torn eastern DRC, Mercy Corps brought practitioners with expertise in natural resource management into the fold of what has historically been an emergency relief mission. In particular, the Mercy Corps mission has fused humanitarian assistance with longer-term development efforts such as enhanced environmental stewardship. For example, promoting the use of fuel-efficient cookstoves eases pressure on local forest resources by lowering the need for firewood, and improves respiratory health by lowering air pollution. The project scaled up the effort through resources from further integration, with carbon credits from avoided emissions being sold through a local broker to the European cap and trade market. These resources in turn helped finance more cook stoves, which now total 20,000 for this project.
“The lesson is we have no excuse for not doing this anywhere in the world and saying some place is too unstable,” Dabelko said. “If we can do it [integrated projects] in eastern DRC, we should be able to do it anywhere.”
Asia: Tackling programmatic integration starts with better understanding the interconnections between environmental and health challenges. Dabelko cited a recent effort of the environment and natural resources team within USAID’s Asia Bureau as an example of breaking out of narrow bureaucratic stovepipes.
USAID staff recognized that a wide set of climate, energy, economic, governance, and conflict issues affected their core biodiversity and water portfolios, even if they did not have the time, expertise, or resources to investigate those issues in detail. Trends that appeared to be in the periphery were not viewed as peripheral to planning and designing programs for long-term success. Working with the Woodrow Wilson Center, the USAID Asia Regional Bureau engaged experts on a diverse set of topics normally considered outside their portfolios. The resulting workshop series and report led to a deeper understanding of the possible impacts of increased Himalayan glacier melt and Chinese hydropower plans on food security and biodiversity programs in the lower reaches of the Mekong River. Bringing analysis from these topically and geographically remote areas into local-level development planning is a process that will require a similar willingness to go outside the typical bounds of one’s brief.
More Integration Ahead?
These case studies provide a glimpse of what integrated programming can look like on the ground. Still, significant hurdles remain standing in the way of regular and effective integration. Cross-sectoral programming demands that old problems be addressed in innovative and perhaps unfamiliar ways, requiring the addition of new capacity in development organizations and better coordination within and between agencies. That can be a complicated process, noted Dabelko, since efforts to pursue greater programming integration can be “hamstrung by earmarks and line items.”
Integration can also prove tricky because it requires a greater willingness to accept multiple indicators of success unfolding over different time frames—health gains may occur quickly, for example, while progress on environmental conservation may unfold less speedily. This means existing programs might need to be reshaped and reoriented to accommodate these divergent time frames, which could prove somewhat difficult. “Integration can be a challenge, both from a programming perspective and from an organizational perspective,” acknowledged moderator Tegan Blaine, climate change advisor for USAID’s Africa Bureau.
Further, the temptation remains strong among appropriators and implementers alike to maintain control over authority and resources in their traditional portfolios. Getting long-time practitioners in particular issue areas to willingly cede some of their turf in the pursuit of greater integration has historically been the “real world” that stands in the way of such integrated work.
But, as shown by the standing-room-only crowd at the seminar, momentum is slowly starting to build in pursuit of breaking down old programming walls and finding new approaches to addressing emerging challenges in human and environmental security.
“There is no choice” but to fuse development agendas with climate change adaptation efforts, asserted Warren Evans, director of the World Bank’s Environment Department. “It can’t be a parallel process anymore.”
Photo Credit: “2010 Summer Seminar Series – July 15th Panel Discussion on Food Security, Climate Change, Water and Health,” used courtesy of USAID and the National Press Club.