With some of Africa’s highest population densities
, ethnic diversity
, and biodiversity, the Great Lakes region is one of the most volatile intersections of human development and the environment. A new population, health, and environment (PHE) initiative from Pathfinder International
, announced Monday
at the International Conference on Family Planning
in Senegal, aims to help address these issues by supporting sustainable resource management and women’s right to choose when and how often they have children.
Jointly funded by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, with additional support from USAID’s Office of Population and Reproductive Health, the project will focus on Ugandan and Kenyan sections of the Lake Victoria basin.
Lake Victoria is the second largest freshwater source in the world, a biodiversity hotspot, and an important regional waterway, but regional population growth among the highest in Africa and economic development have led to declining water quality, reduced fish stocks, and industrial pollution. The basin as a whole supports upwards of 35 million people.
“This new project is a welcome development for many reasons,” said ECSP Director Geoff Dabelko. “It brings the integrated PHE approach to one of the world’s greatest lakes, it enables respected health NGO Pathfinder to pursue PHE efforts, and marks the return of a leading private donor, the MacArthur Foundation, to a group of foundations willing to support this innovative approach.”
Sono Aibe, senior advisor for strategic initiatives at Pathfinder emphasized the integrated challenges facing the region. “In these remote, resource dependent areas of the world, the interconnectedness between the health of people and the health of the environment is undeniable,” she said in a press release. “When women are empowered to participate in the sustainable management of natural resources alongside men and youth, as well as have access to sexual and reproductive health care services, their lives will improve and so will the condition of the ecosystems that they depend on.”
The project’s objective, according to Pathfinder, is to reduce threats to biodiversity, conservation, and ecosystem degradation by increasing access to family planning and sexual/reproductive health services. The project plans to develop scalable approaches that can be adopted by communities, local governments, and national governments. Technical support is to be provided by the BALANCED Project, ExpandNet, and the Population Reference Bureau.
“Lessons learned from this new project will help us better develop and design projects for vulnerable communities in fragile ecosystems, while simultaneously advocating for increased government support for integrated programs throughout the Lake Victoria Basin,” said Lucy Shillingi, Pathfinder’s country representative for Uganda.
The Lake Victoria effort will build upon the experiences of other integrated PHE efforts in the region, such as Rwanda’s SPREAD Project, Uganda’s Conservation Through Public Health, and Tanzania’s TACARE and Coastal Management Partnership.
Sources: Lake Victoria Basin Commission, Pathfinder International, UNEP.