Community-Based Population and Environment Programs – Integrating Resource Conservation and Reproductive Health

What does ‘Community-Based Population and Environment’ mean?

The term—CBPE for short—refers to the linkages between services that combine aspects of natural resources conservation or similar environmental work and the provision of reproductive health services, including family planning.

Why link reproductive health services and conservation activities?

Arguments for the service linkage can vary from the hope of easing local population pressures on ecosystems to meeting immediate human needs more effectively and efficiently.

From the reproductive health standpoint, linked-service projects can lead to the provision of family planning services where they would otherwise not be available, especially to marginalized populations and those in remote and underserved areas. On the environmental side, the arguments for this linkage are threefold:

  1. Women who manage the timing of their childbearing may be better able to manage other critical areas of their lives, including local natural resources and family livelihood;
  2. In some communities the provision of reproductive health services may provide an opening for the introduction of environmental activities that promise only long-term benefits and are thus in less immediate demand;
  3. Finally, women’s access to family planning services, education and economic opportunities reduces family size, delays the average age at childbirth and extends the time intervals between births. Taken together, these effects combine to slow population growth locally, nationally and globally.

What do we know so far about CBPE linkages?

Conclusions that emerge from the review of the CBPE concept and projects:

  • An increasing number of CBPE projects have succeeded in improving access to family planning services. Some reports indicate greater participation in natural resource conservation activities that may be associated with access to family planning services.
  • A single organization need not provide both sets of services. Partnerships between family planning providers and environmental or development organizations are often preferable. At a minimum, field workers can refer interested clients to qualified providers of reproductive health or environmental services.
  • The most serious obstacles to success are agencies’ inexperience with either the natural resource or the population fields and the perceptions, often strong in the natural resources field, that provision of family planning services amounts to “population control.” Religious and cultural opposition to contraception and low education and social status of women are also especially strong in the rural areas in which many of these projects are located.
  • The single most important component in successful projects appears to be the active engagement of women. When women can state their own needs without fear, a desire to safely space or limit pregnancies often emerges as a high priority. And the capacity to manage their own fertility frees women to better manage and conserve the natural resources their families depend upon.
  • Other keys to success in this linkage are:
    • responsiveness to community expressions of interest;
    • willingness to take a holistic approach to environmental, developmental or population work;
    • and willingness to pursue institutional partnerships outside normal networks.
Working as a team, a nurse and an agricultural extensionist make an unlikely pair, jointly teaching soil conservation and family planning techniques in remote villages high in the Ecuadoran Andes. Their engagement with these communities revitalizes a local clinic that had almost closed for lack of clients.Volunteers from Tibetan villages near Mt. Everest embrace the dual role of family planning distributor and park conservation agent. As a result of their work, the health of both community members and the local environment improve.

These and similar programs throughout the developing world link efforts to protect the environment and natural resources with those that improve the health of women and their families. Community-based population and environment programs take advantage of logical connections between managing pregnancy and childbearing and managing the environment that sustains all life.

Why is the CBPE approach critical to developing countries?

Health and Well-being of Women and Families 

Over the past decade, increasing numbers of those who work in conservation or development report that women are stepping forward to request help in preventing unintended pregnancies. On rare occasions this request may accompany a community belief that the growth of the local population is contributing to reduced availability of essential natural resources such as cropland or fresh water.

Whether the connection is explicit at the community level or not, the connection between the health and well-being of the women in the community and the management of natural resources is easy to see. Studies show that, compared with men, women dedicate more of their time and personal earnings to improving the nutrition and education of their children.

Biodiversity

Recent studies conclude that the underlying causes of biodiversity loss include population growth, migration to ecologically sensitive areas, poverty and inequity, policies that promote unsustainable resource consumption, and a lack of environmental awareness. Growth in demand for food and housing, each rooted in population growth, has contributed greatly to the loss of biodiversity. Both conversion of species-rich forests and wetlands to cropland and the increasing intensity of fertilizer and pesticide use are major factors in the extinction of species, and they are direct responses to increases in food demand.

More than 1.1 billion people now live in the world’s 25 biodiversity-rich hotspots. The hotspots are home to around 20 percent of the world’s population, although the original boundaries of these regions enclose only about 12 percent of the planet’s land surface.

Forests

The forest-to-people ratio-a simple division of a country’s forest cover by its population -helps quantify the number of people living with low levels of forest resources both now and in the future. Many are vulnerable to scarcities of key forest products such as timber and paper and risk the collapse of vital forest services such as control of erosion and flooding in populated areas. In some countries the forest-to-people ratio declines even though forests expand, simply because their populations grow more rapidly than their forests.

Education and Economic Development

The well-being of the world’s natural resources is closely linked to the health and well-being of women. Investing in education for girls helps them to contribute to their national economies-and to postpone childbearing until they are ready for a family. Providing credit and other economic opportunities for women creates alternatives to early and frequent childbearing. Finally, better access to quality reproductive health services directly benefits women and their families. These approaches increase human capacity, providing the greatest long-term return to societies, individuals and the environment. Moreover, they are likely to lead to an early peak in world population in the coming century-quite possibly at levels that can co-exist with forests that teem with human and non-human life for centuries to come.

Population and Hope

Clearly the environmental challenges humanity faces in the 21st century and beyond would be less difficult in a world with slower population growth or none at all. Population is a critical variable influencing the availability of each of the natural resources considered here. Access to family planning contributes powerfully to lower fertility, later childbearing, and slower population growth. Yet policymakers, environmentalists and the general public remain largely unaware of the growing interest of young people throughout the world in delaying pregnancies and planning their families. In greater proportions than ever, girls want to go to school and to college, and women want to find fulfilling and well-paid employment. Helping people in every country to obtain the information and services they need to put these ambitions into effect is a critical step towards ending world population growth in this century.

Comprehensive population policies are an essential element in a world development strategy that combines access to reproductive health services, to education and economic opportunity, to improved energy and natural resource technologies, and to saner models of consumption and the “good life.” Together these can bring humanity into enduring balance with the environment and the natural resources upon which we will always depend.