Climate Change, Family Planning

Adapting to Climate Change: The Role of Reproductive Health & Family Planning

by Clive Mutunga

In spite of all of the uncertainty leading up to the Copenhagen climate talks in December, one thing is clear: Adaptation needs are the most urgent in the least developed countries. These countries are expected to feel the brunt of climate change impacts: drought, floods, extreme weather, changing disease vectors, declining agricultural production – despite having contributed the least to it. For people in countries most affected by climate change, finding and supporting adaptation strategies that strengthen people’s resilience and ability to cope with the effects of changes in climate is critical. My colleague Karen Hardee and I explored these issues and how population fits in our recent study, Population and Reproductive Health in National Adaptation Programs of Action for Climate Change.

What we found was that the majority of National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPAs) blueprints developed by least developed countries for addressing their most immediate and urgent adaptation needs identified rapid population growth as a factor that increased human vulnerability to climate change impacts in their countries. And it is no wonder: Nearly one billion people live in the world’s least developed countries, the majority of which are expected to at least double their populations by 2050. Rapid population growth can exacerbate existing vulnerability to the impacts of climate change in multiple ways. For example, population growth in low lying coastal zones vulnerable to storm surges and flooding in Bangladesh is nearly twice as high as the national average; and in Ethiopia, the combination of rapid population growth and declines in agricultural production caused by climate change heighten food insecurity.  

Two hundred million women world-wide have an unmet need for family planning. As caretakers of their families, women suffer the most from the effects of climate change. Access to voluntary family planning services will improve the health of women and their children, and increase the access and hence greater opportunities to diversify income sources. This will make them more likely to be able safeguard themselves and their families in the event of disaster hence increasing their resilience. Voluntary family planning, coupled with investments in girls’ education and women’s economic empowerment, can help improve livelihoods, protect the environment and reduce population pressure. Yet we found that only six of the 41 NAPAs identify family planning as a potential adaptation strategy, and only two prioritized family planning programs for adaptation funding.

The impacts of climate change are projected to be severe in many areas, and multi-sectoral in nature. As such, any and all interventions that can reduce vulnerability and increase resilience to climate change should be considered in an effective adaptation strategies. They should involve participation across development sectors including the health sector, and including reproductive health and family planning to maximize opportunities to to reduce vulnerability and strengthen livelihoods in the face of the greatest development challenge of the 21st century.

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