Family Planning Saves Lives, Can Help Mitigate Effects of Climate ChangeAugust 14, 2012 By Graham Norwood
Contraceptives prevented an estimated 272,040 maternal deaths in 2008, reducing worldwide maternal mortality by 44 percent, according to a recent paper by Saifuddin Ahmed, Qingfeng Li, Li Liu, and Amy O. Tsui, published in The Lancet. But the prevention of maternal deaths could have been even higher. The study, “Maternal Deaths Averted by Contraceptive Use: An Analysis of 172 Countries,” estimates that an additional 104,000 maternal deaths – many occurring in developing parts of Africa and South Asia – could have been averted simply by satisfying existing unmet need for contraception. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, only 22 percent of women who are married or sexually active use contraception – a far cry from the 65 percent which the study suggests is the point at which maternal deaths avoided by contraceptive use begin to plateau. Not surprisingly, this has also yielded some of the highest regional fertility rates in the world.
Such high fertility rates are driving growing concerns about scarcity and capacity in the region, and how climate change might exacerbate already-difficult development hurdles. This nexus of issues was the subject of a recent policy brief by Population Action International and the African Institute for Development Policy, titled Population, Climate Change, and Sustainable Development in Africa. The brief points out that “a large share of Africa’s population lives in areas susceptible to climate variation and extreme weather events,” and that there is an inherent tension the continent faces as it seeks to balance high population growth with climate change-induced reductions in the availability of natural resources, like water and arable land. The authors urge policymakers, rather than focusing on environment, population, and health individually, to “connect population dynamics and climate change” to address their interlinked challenges together.