The original version of this article, by Eric Zuehlke, appeared on the Population Reference Bureau’s website.
Remote rural communities in developing countries typically face the related challenges of extreme poverty, poor health, and environmental degradation. And population growth often exacerbates these challenges. In communities that face environmental challenges along with high fertility and high maternal and child mortality, health programs that include family planning can have great benefits for the health and well-being of women and families, with positive influences on the local environment. Meeting the reproductive health needs of women and ensuring environmental sustainability by connecting family planning with environment programs has proven to be a “win-win” strategy. Yet this connection has often been seen as controversial or irrelevant to environmental policymaking.
While more developed countries have low populations, they have much higher per capita consumption and resource dependence. However, developing countries, with their faster rates of population growth, are contributing a growing share of CO2 emissions, due to rapid deforestation which releases large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The United Nations Development Programme’s 2011 Human Development Report pointed out that developing countries face a double burden of being more vulnerable to wider environmental challenges such as climate change but also having to cope with immediate environmental problems such as resource depletion and poor water quality.
This is where family planning comes in. Expanding family planning is a response to an existing need, and it gives women autonomy and equity. A study analyzing data from 2008 found that unintended pregnancy accounts for up to 41 percent of all births worldwide. According to UNFPA, it is “the factor in population growth most amenable to program and policy interventions.” In addition, over 200 million women worldwide have an unmet need for family planning. Researchers estimate that the demand for contraception will grow by 40 percent over the next 15 years. The context of family planning has shifted from population control decades ago to individual rights. And the impetus for programs is coming from local communities and developing countries.