Center for American Progress Takes on Climate Change, Migration, and Why They Matter to U.S. National Security›July 19, 2012 // By Kayly OberIn early 2012, the Center for American Progress (CAP) released Climate Change, Migration, and Conflict: Addressing Complex Crisis Scenarios in the 21st Century. Although generally in line with climate-migration pieces before it (“It is difficult to fully understand the detailed causes of migration and economic and political instability, but the growing evidence of links between climate change, migration, and conflict raise plenty of reasons for concern”), the report strays from the usual by focusing on U.S. national security interests and four particular sub-regions of concern.
The first region examined – and the one perhaps most on the radar of security analysts at the moment – is Northwest Africa. Here the already-tenuous political stability left in the wake of the Arab Spring will most certainly be exacerbated by climate change, authors Michael Werz and Laura Conley write. “Northwest Africa is crisscrossed with climate, migration, and security challenges…rising coastal sea level, desertification, drought, and the numerous other potential effects of climate change have the potential to increase the numbers of migrants.” All of these factors combine to create what Werz and Conley define as an “arc of tension,” that will strengthen organizations that thrive on chaos, like Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which has already taken advantage of the regional power vacuum left by Muammar Gaddafi’s ouster.
CAP investigates this arc of tension more fully in a more focused, separate brief on Northwest Africa, drilling down on Nigeria, Niger, Algeria, and Morocco. They find that these countries already grapple with a complex set of issues, including population pressures, drought, land degradation, large-scale migration, and natural resource conflicts. Climate change exacerbates all of these. Particularly worrying is the threat it poses to traditional pastoral and agricultural livelihoods, which could translate into “increasing numbers of disenfranchised youth, who security experts believe are more easily recruited to assist [terrorist groups] in return for money and food.”
remains an open – and hotly debated – problem for researchers. The multi-faceted nature of migration, in particular, makes it hard to define the exact causes of movement.
On a larger scale, flagging the environment as the principal reason for migration has its problems, especially under the umbrella of “refugee” status. According to respected migration experts, using the term “refugee” in the case of environmental or climate scenarios is incorrect, since the environment is often simply one “push” factor, while economic opportunities make for a heavier “pull.” Furthermore, applying the term refugee in this case, they say, is misleading and undermines true political refugees.
CAP uses the less polarizing term “climate migrants” in their paper, saying “no universally accepted concepts, much less legal categories, exist to describe or define climate migrants. There is agreement, however, that factors such as drought, flooding, severe weather, and environmental degradation can cause human mobility in large numbers that are certain to increase in the near future.”
In a case like Bangladesh and India, the second sub-region to be examined, the international community is preoccupied with rising sea levels, which is considered a more concrete example of climate change affecting migration. Ultimately, as CAP notes, it’s also a security issue:
In December 2008 the National Defense University in Washington, D.C., ran an exercise that explored the impact of a flood that sent hundreds of thousands of refugees into neighboring India. The result: the exercise predicted a new wave of migration would touch off religious conflicts, encourage the spread of contagious diseases, and cause vast damage to infrastructure.While true that India is “not in a position to absorb climate-induced pressures,” as Werz and Conley write, it’s not quite true that “foreign climate migrants” would be necessarily be an immediate problem, as they suggest.
India has a history of taking in Bangladeshi migration, with an estimated 10 to 20 million illegal Bangladeshis currently living in India, according to the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, an Indian think tank. Traditionally, Bangladeshis have migrated for a myriad of socioeconomic reasons, but most alluring are land availability and a stronger Indian economy. In any case, Bangladesh-India migration would not be new phenomenon.
The environment has also been a part of the equation, but in the case of large-scale sea level rise, its effect on migration can be a bit more nuanced. As the International Food Policy Research Institute noted in its study “Environmental Migrants: A Myth?,” Bangladeshis often have “risk-sharing and informal lending arrangements” to deal with idiosyncratic shocks, which include flooding. Instead, crop failure actually has the strongest effect on mobility. This suggests that it’s not just sea level rise that observers worried about environmentally-driven migration need to track in Bangladesh, but also drought and rain-induced flooding.
The third region, the Andes of South America, also suffers from a slightly myopic security lens. Here, it’s all about melting glaciers and snowcaps. Retreating glaciers would spell disaster for countries which rely heavily on seasonal melt for agriculture and hydroelectric power. Most vulnerable are those with weak governance systems and infrastructure like Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Colombia. For reference, hydropower supplies a whopping 80 percent of Peru’s electricity. However, there are more subtle impacts that could portend bigger trouble for the region.
Regional security experts concede that higher temperatures are already affecting crop production in rural Colombia, harming the ability to consolidate the security gains made by Plan Colombia over the last decade, for example. And a recent report from EUROCLIMA, the European Union’s program on climate change in Latin America, paints an even bleaker picture for agricultural production in the face of desertification and drought:
Natural ecosystems, agriculture, water resources, and human health in Latin America have been impacted by unusual extreme weather events reported in the past years. For example, droughts related to El Niño impacts on the flows of the Colombia Andean region basins (particularly in the Cauca river basin), are causing a 30 percent reduction in the mean flow, with a maximum of 80 percent loss in some tributaries. Consequently, soil moisture, and vegetation activity are strongly reduced.Perhaps more worrying is the impact on the biodiversity in the region. Considering that Latin America represents 16 percent of the world’s surface but 40 percent of its biodiversity this could have serious implications for the biomedical field and others. In a recent Nature study, scientists discovered that in situations where glacial coverage is reduced to the point where it only covers 30 to 50 percent of the drainage basin, several species begin to disappear. They calculated that the entire melting of the glaciers in these areas would result in a huge loss of biodiversity, where between 11 and 38 percent of animal and plant species could go extinct, including many of endemic species that can be found only in these areas.
China and the Third Pole
Finally, China is now in its fourth decade of ever-growing internal migration, some of it driven in recent years by environmental change. Today, across its vast territory, China continues to experience the full spectrum of climate change-related consequences that have the potential to drive migration. CAP finds that the consequences of climate change and continued internal migration in China include “water stress; increased droughts, flooding, or other severe events; increased coastal erosion and saltwater inundation; glacial melt in the Himalayas that could affect hundreds of millions; and shifting agricultural zones” – all of which will affect food supplies and the country’s seemingly relentless pace of development. Still, the most unique factor of migration in China is the power of the central government to be the main “push factor,” as in the case of the Three Gorges Dam.
Agreeing to Agree
Though they might sacrifice some nuance in the regional breakdowns, the core of CAP’s argument for why climate migration matters to U.S. national security is solid. The United States has a “vested interest in helping ensure that areas with weak or absent governance structures – where poverty, environmental degradation, and grievances over central governments and energy production coincide – do not become future recruiting grounds for extremists,” write Werz and Conley. “The possible impacts of climate-related migration in such fragile situations could be destabilizing.” Invest in people rather than just military might; invest in poverty reduction, economic development, and alternative livelihoods.
Jon Barnett on migration as adaptation
In the context of climate change, this means accepting that migration is a form of adaptation. As Jon Barnett notes in an interview with ECSP:
In some circumstances it might be appropriate to [invest in traditional adaptation projects like] infrastructure and hard options where we’re very certain about the nature of the risk…but in other cases, expanding the range of choices and freedoms and opportunities that people have to deal with climate change in the future is perhaps the better strategy.This requires higher-level thinking by states to concede that migration will happen and it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Migration bolsters origin communities through remittances and education and technology sharing. But this thinking has yet to permeate policymaking, with obvious political reasons. Until then, states that are committed to preventing migration are actually cutting off important community responses.
Ultimately, what we consider adaptation and development needs to evolve. By investing in an integrated, multi-sector development approach, we can prevent violent responses to migration at the source rather than relying on reactionary and military solutions. Or, as CAP’s Michael Werz and Laura Conley put it more boldly, “our security can no longer be guaranteed by military strength or economic clout alone, but only by our ability to compel collective action.”
Photo credit: “Villagers going to the local market in Bogoro walk past a Bangladeshi patrol unit of the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) as the country prepares for the second round of elections. 12/Oct/2006. UN Photo/Martine Perret,” courtesy of United Nations Photo Flickr.
Sources: Center for American Progress, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, Inter-American Development Bank, International Food Policy Research Institute, Nature, The World Bank.
Video Credit: “The Nexus of Climate Change, Migration and Security,” courtesy of the Center for American Progress. Image: “The Arc of Tension,” courtesy of the Center for American Progress.
›ECSP is at London’s 2012 Planet Under Pressure conference following all of the most pertinent population, health, and security events.
“Demography is a science of assumptions,” said Sarah Harper, a demographer at the University Oxford, during a panel at the Planet Under Pressure conference. Thirty years ago, she said, demographers believed the world would reach 24 billion by 2050, now the latest UN median projections predict 10 billion. That means a lot of progress has been made for families and development as a whole, but there are some obstacles yet.
Harper stressed that the development community should focus on parts of the world with stubbornly high fertility rates, particularly sub-Saharan Africa. If total fertility rates came down there by 2050, below the expected four children per woman, the region could be home to as many as a billion fewer people than current projections. The earlier we acknowledge this growth, the easier it will be to offer interventions like family planning and reproductive health to hedge it, she said.
Additionally, demographers need worry about important changes in modern population and environment dynamics.
As Harper notes in an interview with ECSP (video below):
There has been so much hype around population growth that I think we’ve ignored the other characteristics of population…that it’s changing in its density – we’re all becoming more urban; it’s changing in its distribution – we’re becoming more mobile; and it’s also changing in its composition – the world is getting older.Sir John Sulston of the Royal Society agreed: population is a more-nuanced subject than many can digest. “Population has been much too ignored because it’s difficult,” he said.
I think it’s very clear that these changes are going to interact with the environment and be affected by environmental change but are also going to impact upon future environmental change.
Sulston urged us to look not just at the diversity of the world, but also the inequity. Today, there is “inequity in countries, between countries, and between generations.”
There is no silver bullet – the international community need to look at three components in concert if we want to make a difference, he said: first, bring down infant mortality; second, invest in family planning; and third, emphasize education for women.
When the ECSP delegation isn’t attending plenary and breakout sessions here at the conference, we’re manning our Wilson Center information booth. And over the last few days, we’ve had the pleasure of introducing our work to a number of new faces, including curious faculty, energetic students, and hopeful doctoral candidates. If you’re attending please feel free to stop by.
Expect more updates from East London, including more short video interviews, in the next three days as ECSP highlights the unique perspectives coming out of the Planet Under Pressure conference.
Pictures from the event are available on our Facebook and Flickr pages, and you can join the conversation on Twitter (#Planet2012) or watch the livestream here.
Photo Credit: Sean Peoples/Woodrow Wilson Center,
›London’s 2012 Planet Under Pressure conference, on all things global change – including climate, population, global risks, and food security – kicked off with a bang on March 26 and ECSP was there to cover it. We’ll be here throughout the week following all of the most pertinent population, health, and security events – we invite you to visit our booth if you happen to be in London, join the conversation on Twitter (#Planet2012), and/or watch the livestream.
During the opening plenaries, UK Scientific Advisor and all-around environmental all-star Sir John Beddington was the first to introduce population into the discussion.
Speaking on “The Planet in 2050” panel, Beddington immediately noted that really 2050 is too far out and instead we should focus on the next two decades. Within these 20 years the trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions and climate change will be determined by the extent and manner of urbanization and demographic changes, particularly in Africa.
“How are we going to generate an infrastructure to feed 500 million Africans in the next 13 years?” Beddington asked.
Beddington’s talk could be considered a rejoinder to his famous “perfect storm” analogy, outlined in The Guardian in 2009:
Our food reserves are at a 50-year low, but by 2030 we need to be producing 50 percent more food. At the same time, we will need 50 percent more energy, and 30 percent more freshwater.In a later session, “Securing Global Biodiversity,” Simon Stuart, chair of the species survival commission of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), expanded on this “perfect storm” analogy.
There are dramatic problems out there, particularly with water and food, but energy also, and they are all intimately connected. You can’t think about dealing with one without considering the others. We must deal with all of these together.
He agreed that the global challenge of our day hinged on how human needs add pressures to the natural environment. Rising demand for energy, food, and freshwater not only influences climate change but also exerts unprecedented pressure on soil quality and biodiversity.
But although we’re impeded by major challenges, including “unsustainable economic models,” a lack of public support, and a massive need for investment in conservation, we have made some strides, Stuart said. The Convention on Biological Diversity’s strategic plan for biodiversity, established in 2010, sets 20 targets for biodiversity conservation by 2020. Stuart believes this is the beginning of acknowledging the urgency of addressing the threat to biodiversity.
Tim Coulson, professor of population biology at Imperial College London, compared the efficiency of either reducing fertility rates or per capita consumption to determine the best way to reduce humanity’s impact on the planet.
Coulson ran two simple simulations using India and the United States as case studies. In one model, he changed fertility rates by one percent per year for 50 years. In the other, he decreased per capita consumption by one percent per year for 50 years. What he found in both cases was that decreasing per capita consumption achieved the most rapid change in human impact on the environment. Nevertheless, he acknowledged that a longer-term course of action of declining fertility rates was needed to keep impact stable.
Readers beware, however – this type of experiment is an incredibly simplified exercise in the intersection of people and the environment. A more varied set of scenarios would produce more useful results. As Beddington mentioned, populations in sub-Saharan Africa have both the highest growth rates and the most direct impact on the environment due to their higher reliance on natural resources for livelihoods.
And, perhaps most importantly, as one commentator noted, these scenarios do not take into account cost factors. For instance, in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through more energy efficient buildings and transport, the United States would need to invest $1.1 trillion through 2030. Alternatively, the cost to provide for the 215 million women in developing countries who want to avoid pregnancy but are not using an effective means of contraception is estimated at $3.6 billion. Using the “wedge” climate model, meeting unmet family planning needs would be equivalent to the amount of greenhouse gas emissions saved by converting entirely to electric vehicles – at a fraction (about five percent) of the cost.
Stay tuned for more updates from ECSP at the Planet Under Pressure Conference. We’ll also be posting pictures from the conference to our Facebook and Flickr pages.
Video Credit: “Welcome to the Anthropocene,” commissioned by the Planet Under Pressure Conference.
Richard Black: Future Climate-Migration Interactions Will Stress Cities, “Trap” Vulnerable Populations›
“In a 50-year time span, climate change, in particular, is likely to have a quite a strong impact on the drivers of migration,” said Richard Black, professor of human geography at University of Sussex and lead author of Migration and Global Environmental Change: Future Challenges and Opportunities. “But in a way that is different to what has been understood until now.”
›“I think it’s appropriate to think about [climate change] adaptation or investments in adaptation as investments to open up the range of choices available to people to deal with an uncertain future,” said Jon Barnett, associate professor of geography at the University of Melbourne, in an interview with ECSP. “In some circumstances it might be appropriate to build infrastructure and hard options where we’re very certain about the nature of the risk…but in other cases, expanding the range of choices and freedoms and opportunities that people have to deal with climate change in the future is perhaps the better strategy.”
For example, providing education, especially for girls, would allow individuals to better negotiate the world and labor markets; installing renewable energy systems in areas lacking electricity would greatly expand the choices for remote households; and altering immigration laws would allow more fluid movements of people.
“Communities and families where people are able to move have higher levels of consumption through remittances that people send back, they have greater connections through the world through the information that migrants send back, [and] they have very reliable forms of income,” he pointed out.
Barnett cited small-island states as positive examples of mobility as adaptation. On Tuvalu, remittances from young male seafarers on crewing missions for international shipping companies from North America and Europe account for three-quarters of the consumption of households, he said. They send home some $4 million a year in remittances or around 10 to 14 percent of Tuvalu’s entire Gross Domestic Product.
Kiribati has an innovative nursing program which provides a way towards “migration with dignity,” said Barnett. Australia’s foreign aid organization, AusAID, sponsors a special scholarship called the Kiribati Australia Nursing Initiative (KANI) which helps provide i-Kiribati people with marketable job skills and, unlike other job training programs, does not require the trained nurses to go back home – they are welcome to stay in Australia.
“Matching skills training with providing that to vulnerable populations in ways that matches gaps in labor markets is a smart strategy of improving capacity to adapt to climate change,” said Barnett. “And it’s a lot cheaper and likely to be much more effective than trying to pick winners in investing in significant infrastructure developments.”
Sources: Islands Business International.
›In the far west of the Brazilian Amazon reside some of the last indigenous tribes on Earth untouched by modern society. In 2002, writer and photographer Scott Wallace, on assignment for National Geographic magazine, undertook a three month journey through the Javari Valley Indigenous Land on an expedition to map and protect the territory of the flecheiros, or Arrow People, named for the poison-tipped arrows they use. Wallace turned the chronicles of his adventure into a book while in residence as a Public Policy Scholar at the Wilson Center.
On November 21, Wallace returned to the Center to present his finished book, The Unconquered: In Search of the Amazon’s Last Uncontacted Tribes.
Over the past 40 years, Brazil’s policies towards indigenous tribes have changed dramatically, said Wallace – from initially wanting to “civilize” tribes through contact, to a modern hands-off approach. He explained that globalization and demand for rubber in the twentieth century meant more contact with indigenous tribes and, ultimately, more upheaval. As a result, many tribes took up hostile attitudes towards outsiders and retreated as far into the wilderness as possible.
Today, the Brazilian Department of Isolated Indians is attempting to map out the extent of uncontacted peoples’ lands in order to better protect them from intrusion. Over the last eight years since the book was written, the official number of uncontacted tribes has increased from 17 to 26. Javari Valley alone hosts eight distinct ethnic groups, making it the largest concentration of uncontacted tribes in the world.
The leader of Wallace’s expedition, Sydney Possuelo, is an explorer who was formerly the head of the Department of Isolated Indians and once one of Brazil’s most famous sertanistas (“agents of contact”). Possuelo is now a champion of the vision that we should no longer contact tribes, said Wallace, but only “identify them and get legal protection for [their] lands and erect control posts to keep intruders out.”
Old Tensions, New Threats
Although Wallace holds up Brazil as one of the countries with the most enlightened policies for native Indians in the Americas, he said there is cause for concern as intrusions continue. As Wallace notes on his blog, isolated Indians are known to travel extensively by foot during the dry season, appearing along the riverbanks as they search for turtle eggs buried in nests along the sandy beaches of the western Amazon. Mounting pressure from logging crews, wildcat gold prospectors, and seismic teams exploring for oil and gas are flushing these isolated indigenes out of the forests.
During their trek to map the flecheiros, Wallace’s group ran into an illegal gold mining operation, and, although they managed to take the dredge to the local authorities, Wallace said he fears corruption may have stymied justice.
On the positive side, Wallace pointed out that by protecting indigenous tribes, the government is also protecting tens of thousands of acres of virgin rainforest in what is a mutually beneficial intersection of conservation and human rights. “Indians are the rightful owners of the land and the most efficacious guardians of the rainforest,” he said.
While there are many obstacles threatening the survival of uncontacted tribes, Wallace said that the situation is not hopeless and that conservation through protecting indigenous-rights in Brazil is a good starting point. “When there is a commitment to do something and resources are made available,” he said, “what seems like inevitable development, like the overrunning of forests, can be stopped.”
Event ResourcesBrazil Amazon adventure,” courtesy of jonrawlinson.
›November 14, 2011 // By Kayly Ober“The only risk is wanting to stay,” beams a Colombian tourism ad, eager to forget decades of brutal internal conflict; however, the risk of violence remains for many rural communities, particularly as the traditional fight over drugs turns to other high-value goods: natural resource rights.
La Toma: Small Town, Big Threats
In the vacuum left by Colombia’s war on drugs, re-armed paramilitary groups remain a threat to many rural civilians. Organized groups hold footholds, particularly in the northeast and west, where they’ve traditionally hidden and exploited weak governance. Over the past five years, their presence has increased while their aims have changed.
A recent PBS documentary, The War We Are Living (watch below), profiles the struggles of two Afro-Colombian women, Francia Marquez and Clemencia Carabali, in the tiny town of La Toma confronting the paramilitary group Las Aguilas Negras, La Nueva Generacion. The Afro-Colombian communities the women represent – long persecuted for their mixed heritage – are traditional artisanal miners, but the Aguilas Negras claim that these communities impede economic growth by refusing to deal with multinationals interested in mining gold on a more industrial scale in their town.
For over seven years, the Aguilas Negras have sent frequent death threats and have indiscriminately killed residents, throwing their bodies over the main bridge in town. At the height of tensions in 2010, they murdered eight gold miners to incite fear. Community leaders know that violence and intimidation by the paramilitary group is part of their plan to scare and displace residents, but they refuse to give in: “The community of La Toma will have to be dragged out dead. Otherwise we’re not going to leave,” admits community leader Francia Marquez to PBS.
La Toma’s predicament is further complicated by corruption and general disinterest from Bogota. Laws that explicitly require the consent of Afro-Colombian communities to mine their land have not always been followed. In 2010, the Department of the Interior and the Institute of Geology and Minerals awarded a contract, without consultation, to Hector Sarria to extract gold around La Toma and ordered 1,300 families to leave their ancestral lands. Tension exploded between the local government and residents.
The community – spurred in part by Marquez and Carabali – geared into action; residents called community meetings, marched on the town, and set up road blocks. As a result, the eviction order was suspended multiple times, and in December 2010, La Toma officially won their case with Colombia’s Constitutional Court. Hector Sarria’s mining license as well as up to 30 other illegal mining permits were suspended permanently. But, as disillusioned residents are quick to point out, the decision could change at any time.
Much like the people of La Toma, the indigenous Wayuu people who make their home in northeast Colombia have also found themselves the target of paramilitary wrath. Wayuu ancestral land is rich in coal and salt, and their main port, Bahia Portete, is ideally situated for drug trafficking, making them an enticing target. In 2004, armed men ravaged the village for nearly 12 hours, killing 12, accounting for 30 disappearances, and displacing thousands. Even now, seven years later, those brave enough to lobby for peace face threats.
Now, other natural resource pressures have emerged. In 2011, growing towns nearby started siphoning water from Wayuu lands, and climate change is expected to exacerbate the situation. A 2007 IPCC report wrote that “under severe dry conditions, inappropriate agricultural practices (deforestation, soil erosion, and excessive use of agrochemicals) will deteriorate surface and groundwater quantity and quality,” particularly in the Magdalena river basin where the Wayuu live. Glacial melt will also stress water supplies in other parts of Colombia. The threat is very real for indigenous peoples like the Wayuu, who call water “Wayuu gold.”
“Without water, we have no future,” says Griselda Polanco, a Wayuu woman, in a video produced by UN Women.
The basic right to water has always been a contentious issue for indigenous peoples in Latin America – perhaps most famously in Cochabomba, Bolivia – and Colombia is no different: most recently 10,000 protestors took to the streets in Bogota to lobby for the right to water.
Post-Conflict Land Tenure Tensions
Perhaps the Wayuu and people of La Toma’s best hope is in a new Victims’ Law, ratified in June 2011, but in the short term, tensions look set to increase as Colombia works to implement it. The law will offer financial compensation to victims or surviving close relatives. It also aims to restore the rights of millions of people forced off their land, including many Afro-Colombian and indigenous peoples.
But “some armed groups – which still occupy much of the stolen land – have already tried to undermine the process,” reports the BBC. “There are fears that they will respond violently to attempts by the rightful owners or the state to repossess the land.”
Rhodri Williams of TerraNullius, a blog that focuses on housing, land, and property rights in conflict, disaster, and displacement contexts, wrote in an email to New Security Beat that there are many hurdles in the way of the law being successful, including ecological changes that have already occurred:
Perhaps the biggest obstacle is the fact that many usurped indigenous and Afro-Colombian territories have been fundamentally transformed through mono-culture cultivation. Previously mixed ecosystems are now palm oil deserts and no one seems to have a sense of how restitution could meaningfully proceed under these circumstances. Compensation or alternative land are the most readily feasible options, but this flies in the face of the particular bond that indigenous peoples typically have with their own homeland. Such bonds are not only economic, in the sense that indigenous livelihoods may be adapted to the particular ecosystem they inhabit, but also spiritual, with land forming a significant element of collective identity. Colombia has recognized these links in their constitution, which sets out special protections for indigenous and Afro-Colombian groups, but has failed to apply these rules in practice. For many groups, it may now be too late.As National Geographic explorer Wade Davis said at the Wilson Center in April, climate change can represent as much a psychological and spiritual problem for indigenous people as a technical problem. Unfortunately, as land-use issues such as those faced by Afro-Columbian communities, the Wayuu, and many other indigenous groups around the world demonstrate, there is a legal dimension to be overcome as well.
Sources: BBC News, Colombia Reports, International Displacement Monitoring Centre, PBS, Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, UN Women. The War We Are Living, part of the PBS series Women, War, and Peace, was instrumental to the framing of this piece.
Image and Video Credit: “Countryside Near Manizales, Colombia,” courtesy of flickr user philipbouchard; The War We Are Living video, courtesy of PBS.
›“The health, security, and well-being of families depend importantly on the health of women,” said Carol Peasley, president and CEO of the Centre for Development and Population Activities (CEDPA). “When women have the ability to voluntarily space and limit the number of children they have, maternal and newborn child deaths decrease, as do abortions and abortion-related injuries,” she continued.
Peasley was joined by three panelists on September 28 at the Wilson Center: Dr. Nafis Sadik, special advisor to the UN Secretary General; Tigist Kassa Milko, health communications program coordinator for Panos Ethiopia; and Rosemary Ardayfio, a reporter for the Ghanaian paper, The Daily Graphic.
Ardayfio and Milko both recently participated in a CEDPA-led workshop, which is designed to create effective women champions for family planning and reproductive health.
“The voices of women champions may in fact be the best way to influence policymakers and just average citizens around the world,” said Peasley.
Women’s Rights Essential for Development of All
According to Sadik, women have gained some autonomy over their reproductive health:
- Maternal mortality around the world is down by 40 percent compared to 1990 levels;
- Family planning reaches over 65 percent of women who need and want it;
- Many developing countries will achieve parity in girls’ and boys’ education by 2015; and
- Women are increasingly prominent in national and international leadership.
- Women’s literacy rates are still much lower than men’s;
- Pregnancy and childbirth still pose major health risks for women;
- Maternal mortality is the single biggest differential between developed and developing countries;
- We are far from reaching the Millennium Development Goal of reducing maternal mortality by 75 percent; and
- The current unmet demand for family planning (215 million women) is projected to rise by 40 percent by 2050 as the reproductive age population grows.
Local Champions for Local Needs
Although Tigist Kassa Milko and Rosemary Ardayfio come from two African countries hundreds of miles apart, their struggles are eerily similar.
In Ethiopia, the more than 1.5 million women who live in pastoral or nomadic areas shoulder many responsibilities, including walking long distances to fetch food and water for their families. The well-being of these women and their families is further strained by the challenges of climate change and limited health service provision.
To help overcome these obstacles, a number of micro-credit associations now offer female pastoralists alternative livelihood options. Panos Ethiopia also provides “reproductive health, family planning, gender-based violence forums” and “trainings on life skills and saving” to those who come for loans, said Milko.
But “when it’s a choice between walking to get water and walking to get contraceptives, water will win,” said Milko, so it is essential to focus on integrating ways to improve livelihoods, health, and ecosystems – also known as population, health, and environment (PHE) programs.
In Ghana, women also grapple with competing issues of development, poverty, healthcare, and cultural barriers. According to Ardayfio, 35 out of every 100 Ghanaian women want to space or limit births but are not using modern family planning methods. As a journalist, she acknowledged that there are many myths about reproductive health that need to be dispelled. The newspaper she writes for, The Daily Graphic, publishes three articles on women’s health each week.
“The stories of women dying from pregnancy-related causes should continue to be told in a compelling manner until our government makes good on the many international commitments it has signed to,” said Ardayfio. “Our decision-makers should be told again and again that it’s time to scale up family planning.”
Photo Credit: Dave Hawxhurst/Wilson Center.
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