“A lot of people probably don’t think that an organization with a name like ‘World Wildlife Fund
’ would have a program on population, health, and the environment,” said WWF’s Tom Dillon at the Wilson Center
, but actually it is very natural. “Most of the people we work with are in rural areas, and they depend on their natural resources for their own livelihoods
and for their own well-being. Of course, if you are in that situation, in order to be a steward of the environment, you’ve got to have the basics. You have got to have your own health.”
Dillon was joined by staff from WWF, as well as Scott Radloff, director of USAID’s Office of Population and Reproductive Health, and Conrad Person, director of corporate contributions at Johnson & Johnson, to talk about the results of a three-year partnership between USAID, WWF, and Johnson & Johnson. The joint effort, a formal Global Development Alliance, provided health and family planning services, clean water, and sanitation to communities in three of WWF’s priority conservation landscapes: The Salonga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Lamu Archipelago in Kenya, and the Terai Arch Landscape in Nepal.
By creating an innovative public-private partnership that linked health objectives, particularly related to family planning and maternal and child health, to environmental and conservation activities, “this alliance was ahead of its time,” said Radloff.
Human Health Linked to Environmental Health
The project had four objectives, said Terri Lukas, WWF’s population, health, and environment (PHE) program manager: improve family health; reduce barriers to family planning and reproductive health services; improve community management of natural resources and habitat conservation; and document and promote successful approaches.
“Human health cannot be separated from environmental health anywhere,” Lukas said, “but most especially when we are working with very poor people who live very close to nature.”
Projects Provide Integrated Services
The Salonga National Park in the DRC is home to many endangered species, including the bonobo, one of the four great apes. Local communities are very isolated, and lack access to safe drinking water and sustainable livelihoods, as well as basic health and family planning services, according to Lukas. The PHE project was able to train 135 voluntary community health workers in family planning and maternal and child health care, including 55 women. One year after the training, health workers were distributing contraception to more than 300 new users per month, Lukas said.
The alliance has also integrated health and family planning services into conservation programs in Kenya’s Kiunga Marine National Reserve, in part, “to demonstrate to the people that we care about them as well as the environment, and also to show them the synergies that exist between the health issue and the environment issue,” said WWF Program Coordinator Bahati Mburah. The region has been suffering through a year-and-a-half-long drought, and has one of the highest population growth rates in east Africa, placing considerable pressure on natural resources.
“We talk to [the fisher folk] about health and family planning, and how they are related to the management of fisheries,” said Mburah. With improved transportation and mobile outreach services provided by the project, 97 percent of women are now able to access family planning services within two hours of their home, she said.
The third site is in the Terai region along the southern border of Nepal. In this lowland region, the alliance is attempting to safeguard and restore forest areas in order to allow wildlife to move and breed more freely, while at the same time improving the health and economic prospects of the people. By linking these goals, support for conservation efforts increased from 59 percent to 94 percent of households, with 85 percent attributing positive attitude changes to increased access to health services and safe drinking water, according to Bhaskar Bhattarai, project coordinator for WWF-Nepal.
Documenting and Promoting Successful Approaches
Cara Honzak, WWF’s senior technical advisor on population, health, and environment, said the global objective of the alliance was to document and promote successful PHE approaches. Comprehensive baseline and endline surveys provided critical evidence that integrated PHE programming increases family planning use in remote areas, improves conservation buy-in within communities, and leads to increased participation of women in community leadership and decision-making.
“We have played a key role in producing some of the evidence that has been used throughout Washington [D.C.], especially to provide information to government bodies that are making decisions about bringing more money into family planning, health, and particularly in the environmental sector,” said Honzak.
“After two decades in the field, and working in this area, I wasn’t expecting many surprises. I couldn’t have been more wrong,” Lukas said. “These three years have changed almost everything about the way I now view health development…I have long called myself a conservationist, but now I say to my international health colleagues: we are all conservationists, and if we aren’t, we should be.”
Photo Credit: “Nepalese Harvest,” courtesy of flickr user IRRI Images.