“The developing world is urbanizing at a dizzying pace,” yet rural populations
living in developing countries are also rapidly increasing, threatening many of the planet’s most biodiverse regions, says a new study, Mapping Population onto Priority Conservation Areas
, by David López-Carr, Matthew Erdman, and Alex Zvoleff.
Using comprehensive data from the USAID-sponsored Demographic Health Surveys (DHS), the researchers analyzed population, mortality, and fertility indicators for 10 of the 19 priority places for conservation identified by the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF). These biological hotspots represent parts of 25 countries throughout South Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, and South America, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Colombia, Guatemala, Indonesia, Kenya, Nepal, Madagascar, and Thailand.
Urban vs. Rural
The findings confirmed the researchers’ hypothesis that rural areas within WWF priority regions are at a lower state of demographic transition than their urban counterparts, meaning they have higher fertility and infant mortality rates and a younger age structure due to poor access to primary health care, including family planning. Furthermore, women in these regions desire more children than those in urban, non-priority areas, but experience a greater difference between ideal and actual number of children.
For many of the indicators, the differences between urban and rural, and priority and non-priority, regions of the developing world are striking. In urban Asia, the mean predicted population doubling time is 86.1 years; in rural Africa it is only 24.6 years. Urban Asia and South America also have total fertility rates of 1.8 children per woman, while rural Africa’s is 5.2. Infant mortality also ranged from a low of 20 deaths per every 1,000 births in some developing urban areas, to over 100 in rural parts of Coastal East Africa. In the developed world it is less than 10.
There is also consistently less desire among women in priority areas to limit their childbearing. Worldwide, 49.4 percent of women living within priority areas want to limit childbearing, compared to 56.2 percent outside priority areas.
Rural areas in all regions had the highest unmet need for family planning, with the exception of the Congo Basin, where high infant mortality has persisted and dampened women’s desire to limit childbearing. “If much needed health services were provided in the Congo Basin, along with family planning services, child survival rates would increase, and couples would be more inclined to limit overall births,” the study says.
Lower demand for family planning in priority areas is consistent with Caldwell’s theory of intergenerational wealth flows, the paper noted, which explains how in rural agricultural societies, children are economic assets who move wealth to their parents. As countries develop and people gain access to education, healthcare and female empowerment, wealth flows reverse and children become financial burdens. This transition decreases fertility and increases demand for family planning.
As WWF plans to scale up its population, health and environment (PHE) programs, this study will help to prioritize places within priority areas that are most in need of PHE intervention and “are most likely to help alleviate negative environmental and social impacts of rapid population growth.” The results of this study show that many areas are ripe for such intervention:
Nearly a quarter of households in Coastal East Africa and the Mesoamerican Reef wish to have access to contraception yet their desire remains unfulfilled. Similarly, households within priority places in Coastal East Africa, the Mesoamerican Reef, Amazon and the Guianas, and the Eastern Himalayas wish to have nearly one child fewer than they currently have.The findings of this study have already informed the planning of several of WWF’s projects in Madagascar and Namibia.
The limited availability and detail of the DHS data was the primary limitation of the study, the researchers noted. The 25 countries examined did not fully cover all WWF’s priority areas – 17 other countries within the priority areas lacked sufficiently comprehensive data for the study. Furthermore, the district or municipality was the smallest unit of analysis possible with DHS data, making it difficult to exactly pinpoint priority communities.
“Geography matters,” write the authors. “Only with further refined data accompanied by qualitative on-the-ground field research can we credibly answer remaining questions.”
Image Credit:“Family Planning: Unmet Need for Family Planning Services” and “Mortality Rate: Child Mortality Rate (Under Age 5)” courtesy of World Wildlife Fund.
Sources: Population Council, World Wildlife Fund.