Food Security Discussion Series

28 July 2016
Dr Jane O’Sullivan

Population Health & Environment (PHE): Holistic rural development exploits cross-sectoral synergies

Population Health and Environment (PHE) has been described as “an interdisciplinary model of program design which responds to the interconnected challenges faced by ecosystems and the communities dependent on them.” It is gaining popularity particularly in East Africa, on the back of remarkable successes. The approach has emerged in grassroots projects, generally when an environmental conservation project realises that addressing population growth is vital to their goals. Its success now lies in a focus on sustainable livelihoods, and in harnessing community members and existing community organisations as change agents.

An early PHE experiment was the Integrated Population and Coastal Resource Management (IPOPCORM) initiative in the Philippines, running from 2000-2007 in marine conservation areas with high population growth. This led to an effort to extend the model elsewhere in Asia and East Africa through the BALANCED project (Building Actors and Leaders for Community Excellence and Development) from 2008-2013. From around 2007, the Blue Ventures marine conservation project in southwest Madagascar also adopted integrated community development including sustainable livelihood alternatives, gender equity and voluntary family planning. The PHE Ethiopia Consortium was established in 2008, to support community organisations to adopt PHE models, to realize the vision of “Ethiopia with a healthy population, sustainable resource use, improved livelihood and resilient ecosystem.”

Although it is early days for these interventions, and scientifically rigorous impact evaluations are often lacking, the enthusiasm of participating communities and organisations has propelled increasing interest. Available data suggest remarkable rates of change in attitudes, behaviours and environmental health outcomes. In contrast to single sector interventions, PHE projects report greater engagement of women in environmental management, and of men in family planning. Importantly, contraception users are more likely to report their intention to limit family size, where users with family-planning-only interventions are more likely to cite child spacing as their motive. Projects benefit not only by making the conceptual links between environmental health and community health, but by sharing resources and infrastructure across sectors.

Our session viewed a promotional video from the HoPE-LVB project (Health of People and the Environment in the Lake Victoria Basin), which is piloting PHE interventions in fishing communities in Uganda and Kenya. The video can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CFPQxgvSmM0&feature=youtu.be  Made only three years after the project start, the video documented transformative changes in fisheries management, reforestation, sanitation practices and incidence of diarrhoea, adoption of efficient stoves, child immunisations and uptake of family planning. Model households and cooperative enterprises for women and for youth provide means for peer-to-peer dissemination of project messages. Through a participatory planning process, the community has built a vision for its future, which serves to build community ownership and to motivate and benchmark further achievement.

The message from PHE is that development interventions need not constrain themselves to narrow goals and disciplinary expertise. Reaching out to other sectors working in the same communities, or willing to do so, can exploit valuable synergies. Communities are able to take charge of their own transformation, if empowered to do so.


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