Despite the threat posed by flooding and sea-level rise, relatively little attention has been paid to the potential for environmentally induced instability in coastal West African cities. However, current trends, including rapid population growth, land use patterns, and increasing climate impacts, suggest the costs of inaction in these urban areas are rising.
›August 7, 2013 // By Elizabeth Leahy Madsen
In a recent post on the new United Nations population projections, I discussed the risk in assuming that countries in sub-Saharan Africa will progress through the demographic transition at a pace similar to other regions. Making this assumption is questionable because fertility decline in Africa has generally proceeded more slowly than in other parts of the world, with several cases of “stalls” and even small fertility increases over time.
Facing the Future: Empowering Youth to Protect Their Health and Environment in Ghana and the Philippines›
In the Philippines, there are health and development programs that specifically target children, senior citizens, and adults, said Joan Castro, but adolescents are underserved. Nineteen percent of the population is between the ages of 15 and 19, but “they can’t even go to health centers to get the family planning commodities [they desire],” she said. [Video Below]
“I have been amazed and inspired by the youth that I’ve worked with, with their dedication and motivation to help their countrymen and to try to make their communities better places,” says Leslie Mwinnyaa in this week’s podcast.
When Mwinnyaa arrived in the Ellembelle district of coastal Ghana as a Peace Corps volunteer she found a multitude of development challenges. Fishermen routinely use illegal techniques like chemicals, lights, and dynamite that decimate fish stocks; “sand winning” and mangrove clearing increases erosion, leaving communities vulnerable to flooding and reducing breeding grounds for local fish; poor waste and refuse management contributes to disease and poor health; and teenage girls have twice the national rate of pregnancy.
Obstetric fistula is “not just a medical issue, but a human issue,” said Dr. Luc de Bernis, senior maternal health advisor at UNFPA, during a September 27 panel discussion at the Wilson Center. Obstetric fistula, a hole in the birth canal that can develop between the vagina and the bladder and/or rectum during prolonged labor without proper medical intervention, is preventable and treatable but continues to affect more than two million women worldwide, mostly in developing countries where women lack access to cesarean services. Women stricken with it face severe pain and suffering, social stigmatization, and usually give birth to a stillborn child.
›June 5, 2012 // By Sandeep BathalaOver 2,100 participants attended the 2012 Population Association of America (PAA) annual meeting in San Francisco this May. PAA was established in 1930 to research issues related to human population. This year, for the first time, the meeting featured a notable contingent of demographers, sociologists, and public health professionals working on environmental connections.
I followed as many of the environment-population discussions on newly published or prospective research papers as possible (about 20 in total). I found four papers particularly noteworthy for the connections made to women, family planning, and climate change adaptation.
Samuel Codjoe of the University of Ghana spoke about adaptation to climate extremes in the Afram Plains during one of the population, health, and environment (PHE) panels organized by Population Action International. Although developed nations are historically the major contributors of greenhouse gases due to comparatively high levels of consumptions, developing countries are the most vulnerable to the consequences of climate change – in part because of continued population growth. As a result, adaptation strategies in countries like Ghana are particularly important; and given women’s often-outsized role in water and natural resource issues, a focus on gender-specific adaptation even more so.
Codjoe presented an analysis of preferred adaptation strategies to flood and drought, broken down by gender and three common occupations – farming, fishing, and charcoal production). He said he hopes his assessment – part of a collaborative research effort with Lucy K.A. Adzoyi-Atidoh of Lincoln University – will aid in the selection and implementation of successful adaptation options for communities and households in the future.
“Understanding differences in the priorities that women place on adaptation may prove to be important in the effectiveness of climate change adaptation – and the sustainability of communities,” he said.
David López-Carr of the University of California, Santa Barbara, speaking on behalf of a group of researchers with World Wildlife Fund, teased out the gender dynamic further when he presented on ways to help the conservation sector determine next steps for existing PHE projects. Practitioners from seven of the eight PHE projects currently implemented by conservation organizations (defined by having been involved for at least three years in bringing family planning to local communities) recently said the links to women’s empowerment were among the most important aspects of successful projects.
López-Carr therefore emphasized the need for additional research on how PHE projects can support and empower women, both economically and socially. He also noted, like Codjoe, the potential impact women often have on the management of their community’s natural resources, saying this was another area where research on the empowering effect of PHE programs can provide further backing for integrated programs.
Karen Hardee of Futures Group spoke about how the experiences of integrated PHE projects, despite most not being designed to respond to climate change specifically, have lessons to offer climate change efforts. Her work was done in partnership with the Population Reference Bureau, Population Action International, and U.S. Agency for International Development. She concluded that community-based adaptation approaches should consider population dynamics in vulnerability assessments. Meeting unmet need for family planning, she said, can assist communities adapting to climate change by building resilience. And as result, “PHE approaches should be able to qualify for funding under community-based adaptation programs.”
Shah Md. Atiqul Haq of the City University of Hong Kong presented research he conducted in Bangladesh that found that women tended to feel that a large family size was not advantageous during floods. This, he said, was indicative of their increased understanding of vulnerability and an endorsement of providing knowledge and access to family planning services as part of climate change adaptation strategies.
The inclusion of more environment, and particularly PHE, related presentations at this year’s conference was good to see – perhaps a sign that demography is becoming a more complex and comprehensive field, with a focus more on population structure and its interactions with other issues, rather than a singular fascination with growth.
In particular, panelists showed that the nexus between demography, gender equity, and climate change continues to grow in importance, both in the research and practitioner communities.
Photo Credit: Tribal women and children in Kerala state, India, courtesy of flickr user Eileen Delhi.
›The PBS NewsHour continued its collaboration with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting on international reporting last week with an episode on water infrastructure in Ghana and Nigeria. The coverage is especially apropos on World Water Day.
Correspondent Steve Sapienza spoke to reporters in Ghana and Nigeria to highlight long-running access and sanitation issues in both countries caused by poor infrastructure that has not kept up with growth.
Ameto Akpe is a local reporter for Nigeria’s BusinessDay, where her stories “target the contradiction of a country with immense oil wealth and great water resources that are not reaching their citizens.” In the city of Makurdi, capital of the north-central Benue State, she reports on the hundreds of thousands of people who rely on either high-priced water delivery or untreated water drawn straight from the Benue River.
“The previous attempt to build a water treatment plant ended in scandal in 2008,” says Sapienza, “with an unfinished treatment facility and city officials unable to account for $6 million.”
“Unfortunately, the waterworks is only half of the solution to Makurdi’s water problem,” writes Akpe on the Pulitzer Center. “The other half is a system of pipes to deliver the water to the people – and that project is just a twinkle in the eye of a handful of contractors and bureaucrats.”
In Ghana, metro TV reporter Samuel Agyemang explains similar access and sanitation issues in the capitol of Accra and its suburb of Teshie, where some residents have waited decades for piped water, despite substantial foreign investments.
The Pulitzer Center’s Peter Sawyer explains in a companion piece that “the population of Accra has grown enormously in the past several decades. But the water supply system has not grown with it.” As a result, the Ghana Water Company is constantly playing catch-up to provide water to communities, many of whom do not understand how to demand accountability from their officials, says Agyemang.
According to UN estimates, Ghana’s population has increased by more than 10 million people since 1990. Nigeria is one of the fastest growing countries in the world, with 158 million people currently and the UN medium projection estimating a possible 389 million by mid-century.
Reporter Ameto Akpe will be speaking about Nigeria’s water and sanitation problems at an upcoming all-day event on Nigeria at the Wilson Center, scheduled for April 25.
Sources: PBS NewsHour, Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting, UN Population Division.
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